Monday, February 1, 2016

Legislation Submitted to Repeal Speed Cameras

Legislation has been submitted to the House of Delegates to repeal the authority of local and state agencies to use speed and red light cameras.  The bill, labeled as House Bill 436, is sponsored by Delegate Warren Miller and 33 other state lawmakers.

HB 436 will be heard by the Environment and Transportation Committee on 2/18 at 1pm. 
Kumar Barve (chair): kumar.barve@house.state.md.us
Dana Stein (vice chair): dana.stein@house.state.md.us
Carl Anderton: carl.anderton@house.state.md.us
Pam Beidle: pamela.beidle@house.state.md.us
Alfred Carr: alfred.carr@house.state.md.us
Andrew Cassilly: andrew.cassilly@house.state.md.us
Robert Flanagan:  bob.flanagan@house.state.md.us
William Folden: william.folden@house.state.md.us
David Fraser-Hidalgo: david.fraser.hidalgo@house.state.md.us
Barbara Frush: barbara.frush@house.state.md.us
James Gilchrist: jim.gilchrist@house.state.md.us
Anne Healey: anne.healey@house.state.md.us
Marvin Holmes: marvin.holmes@house.state.md.us
Jay Jacobs: jay.jacobs@house.state.md.us
Jay Jalisi: jay.jalisi@house.state.md.us
Tony Knotts: tony.knotts@house.state.md.us
Stephen Lafferty: stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us
Clarance Lam: clarence.lam@house.state.md.us
Corey McCray: cory.mccray@house.state.md.us
Anthony O'Donnell: anthony.odonnell@house.state.md.us
Charles Otto: charles.otto@house.state.md.us
Kathy Szeliga: kathy.szeliga@house.state.md.us
Willia Wivell: william.wivell@house.state.md.us


CLICK TO SEND AN EMAIL TO THE ENVIRONMENT AND TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE MEMBERS

Legislation Follows Years of Abuse, Errors
This year's bill is the latest piece of legislation in response to reports of numerous errors and other problems in speed camera programs across the state.  Most specifically, Baltimore City's speed camera program was shut down in December of 2012 after it was revealed that the city issued thousands of erroneous citations based on incorrect speed reading.  These errors were confirmed by audits of the city's speed camera program.  Baltimore's vendor at the time, Xerox State and Local Solutions, is currently the vendor for both the SHA's program and Montgomery County's speed camera program, as well as programs in Rockville, Takoma Park, Gaithersburg, and several other municipal programs.

Errors had been reported in other jurisdictions as well, but not all have been acknowledged by local governments.  Recently, we reported that College Park cited a stationary shuttle bus. In Wicomico county, a number of school teachers alleged that they had received erroneous citations.  Some motorists had alleged receiving erroneous citations from Forest Heights.  One motorist in College Park used a "car chip" which recorded his vehicle's speed and it showed that the speed his vehicle was recorded at was not the speed shown on the citation, that motorist succeeded in having his citation dismissed in court.  More recently, we reported that College Park issued a citation to a stopped shuttle bus.

Some jurisdictions have incorrectly claimed that errors were isolated to Baltimore City, and all that all errors involved stationary vehicles, so the only thing they needed to be able to prove was that vehicles were "present and moving" and passed manufacturer defined calibration checks.  However most of the erroneously cited vehicles  from Baltimore's program were in fact moving, just not at the cited speed, and the devices giving faulty readings actually passed all their calibration tests, proving that the current requirements for testing do not prove accuracy.  Thus most local governments, who claim that citation images cannot be used to verify speed and rejected prior legislation which would have required that, have no means of identifying errors of that sort. 

The State of Marylands program came under criticism in 2011 after it was revealed that manufacturers had been permitted to "certify" their own equipment as accurate, rather than using an independent lab.  A 2012 audit of the SHA's program revealed that the state did not meet its own standards for testing equipment at the start of the program, and a requirement that equipment certified by the International Association of Chiefs of Police was waived, a change which gave one contractor a decided advantage.  No refunds were issued, and the whistleblower who revealed the issues was forced into early retirement for rocking the boat.

The speed camera programs in the Town of Morningside and the Town of Fairmount Heights were also shut down after those programs received severe criticism in the press.  However some local governments rarely set things right after problems are uncovered.  Montgomery County, for years, issued citations on days when legally required calibration tests were not performed, particularly on weekends, and none of the legally required "daily setup logs" were kept.  Montgomery Count kept all the revenue from those citations and voided none of those citations.

Maryland Red Light Camera Programs' Creeping Enforcement Standards
Red light cameras have also come under criticism, as it has been revealed that in some jurisdictions most of the citations issued for red light running are not issued for "straight through" red light running.  Rockville, in particular, more than doubled their red light camera revenues after deploying new cameras which ticket for slow moving right turns or vehicles which stop partially ahead of the white line.  In one particular example, a video showed a vehicle stopped just ahead of the white line to see around a snow bank before making a right turn.  Rockville unashamedly charged that motorist with running a red light simply for pulling ahead of the snow bank the city and county had failed to remove so that he could clearly see into the intersection.

Elsewhere in the US photo enforcement has also come under fire, largely due to a bribery scandal involving photo enforcement contractor Redflex.


Photo Enforcement Profiteers Expected to Come Out Against Legislation
Any unfavorable changes to speed and red light camera can expect to face stiff resistance from the photo enforcement industry, which has significantly increased their spending on lobbying in the past year.  Local governments which profit from speed cameras, and their puppet organizations MaCo and the MML, are expected to oppose any changes to photo enforcement laws which might better protect the legal rights of motorists.  Some local governments, particularly Montgomery County, regularly expend taxpayer resources and public employee time influencing state lawmakers.  Officials from Montgomery County's speed camera program were invited in the past to sit on secret legislative workgroups which opponents of speed cameras and the general public were not permitted to observe.  Montgomery County even went so far as to create a secret "Citizens Advisory Board on Traffic Issues", which has discussed the county's testimony on pending legislation and created "sock puppet" opinion articles which were successfully planted in the local press; unlike normal "citizens advisory boards" this board is completely closed to the general public.

Some local governments have grown to view speed and red light camera revenue as a sort of "highway user fee", which they are rightly entitled to collect.   A member of Chevy Chase Village's council once stated "I think Safe Speed money is the crack cocaine of local government." in reference to the city's budgeting practices.

Prior "reform" legislation which actually addressed concerns of critics of the current system have always been shot down, and supporters of the system have been able to ensure that any legislative changes were so full of loopholes and twisted language as to be utterly meaningless.  Legislation requiring audits of speed camera programs, of the type which which found the errors in Baltimore City, has been shot down by the house committees in the past because local governments did not want outside oversight which might reveal errors or other problems they did not wish to publicly admit.

Other Information:
Link To HB436
Find Your State Lawmakers 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chicago Jury Hands Down Guilty Verdict in Red Light Camera Bribery Trial

A jury has found former Deputy head of Chicago Department of Transportation John Bills guilty on 20 counts including fraud, extortion, bribery and other charges pertaining to the city's red light camera program

Prosecutors argued that Redflex paid $2million through a "bagman" to influence city officials, including $643,000 in cash, a condo in Arizona, trips, a Mercades convertible, and other benefits paid to Bills.  Australian photo enforcement company Redflex earned $124million off of their Chicago red light camera contract. 

Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley was forced to resign over the scandal and had previously plead guilty to her role in the scandal.  The scandal was revealed only because a whistleblower turned information over to the Chicago Tribune, whose investigation eventually led to the charges being filed.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Florida Report Showed Accidents and Fatalities Increased With Red Light Cameras

A report by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles found that accidents increased almost 15% after the deployment of red light cameras at intersections.  A study of 71 local jurisdictions in the state looked at locations where cameras had been activated between January 1, 2012 and September 30, 2014.  The study showed that overall accident reports increased 14.65% after cameras were installed, rear-end crashes increased 10.18%.  Injury accidents increased as well, with "incapacitating injuries" increasing 29.31%.  Fatalities went up from 16 to 18 at these locations, and fatalities involving non-motorists (generally pedestrians or cyclists) showed a marked increase from 4 to 7.

Source: "Red Light Camera Summary Report: Fiscal Year 2014-2015",
Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

The cameras did show success in two areas however.   "Angle crashes" declining by 0.12% with exactly one less "angle crash" accident.  And the cameras did issue $150million worth of tickets in FY15.  Of these citations, 253,744 tickets worth $40 million were issued for right hand turns on red, despite a state law that prohibits tickets for such turns made in a "careful and prudent manner."

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Man Receives Tickets from Baltimore County, Prince George's for Vehicles He Does Not Own

A Rockville man received some unwanted Christmas presents in the mail this year: multiple photo-enforcement tickets for cars that doesn't belong to him, according to a report by Fox 5 news.

Michael Greene, from Rockville, got home from his Christmas break and found a stack of automated traffic tickets in the mail.  The man drives a BMW X3 SUV.  The citations showed images of various leased BMW vehicles, none of which were his, according to Fox 5.

“I thought my wife got speed camera tickets and was just speeding all over the place,” Greene said. “And then she said, ‘No, I didn't,’ and then we opened them up and I was really shocked to see that they weren't our cars.”
Two automated speed camera tickets were from Prince George's County, another speed camera citation was from Baltimore County. Greene also received a toll violation from the New Jersey Turnpike for a $2.90 toll and a $50 fine.  None of the citations were for vehicles he had been driving, according to the report.
“No one wanted to help, I talked to jurisdictions and that really got me nowhere. I talked to the MVA and they said all of the data was correct. I even called BMW and BMW said all the data was correct for them. At that point, with everyone washing their hands, someone's got to figure out where the problem is.”
Fox5 tried calling the same individuals whom Greene tried to contact.  Optotraffic spokesperson John O'Connor stated that they needed to take the matter up with the Prince George's County "ombudsman". The reporter was put on hold twice when they called the number for Baltimore County's citations and had to give up after waiting 13 minutes, according to the report.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Montgomery County Police Have “Secret Citizen Advisory Boards”

The Montgomery County Police have been exploiting a loophole in the Open Meetings Act to create a number of called “Citizens Advisory Boards” which ordinary citizens are not permitted to attend, observe, or scrutinize the activities of in any way.

Secret Speed Camera "Citizens" Group Operates Without Public Participation or Scrutiny
The matter came to the attention of the Maryland Drivers Alliance when we became aware of the existent of a so called “Citizens Advisory Board on Traffic Issues” (or CAB-TI) which approves locations for speed monitoring systems within the County.  The board is specifically mentioned on the County website as part of the formal process by which speed camera locations are selected, and was also mentioned in an Office of Legislative Oversight report on the County's speed camera program.  However the board is not listed on Montgomery County's list.  The head of Montgomery County's Traffic Division, Captain Thomas Didone, confirmed that there have been no public notices of the group's meetings and that no minutes were kept at any meetings.  It was confirmed that the MCPD Director of the Traffic Division appoints the membership of this Citizen Advisory Board and control's the group's agenda.

The head of the Maryland Drivers Alliance filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board, which monitors compliance with the state law requiring “public bodies”.  It was revealed in the County's response that the CAB-TI is actually just one of several Police Citizen Advisory Boards, and that the meetings of ALL of these “citizens advisory boards” are closed to the public.  The Montgomery County Attorney asserted in their response that the open meetings act does not apply to the police citizens advisory boards because its members were selected by the Director of the division and that this individual is a “merit employee” rather than a direct appointee of the county executive.

Scope Of Secret Committees Is Potentially Broader than Speed Cameras
It was revealed during the course of our investigation that the CAB-TI's meetings were not limited to discussing speed camera locations.  Captain Didone sought to consult with the group while preparing legislative testimony, and of course the testimony prepared by Didone was in complete opposition to the views expressed by this website.  It was also revealed that the meetings discussed recent or potential legislative changes regarding other types of Automated Traffic Enforcement aside from speed cameras.  Since the CAB-TI's agendas were not limited to just selecting speed camera locations, and because no minutes or agendas were kept, there is no way for the public or the press to have any idea what other matters might have been discussed or what other matters might be discussed in future meetings.

The nature of the CAB-TI was also called out by the Greater Olney Area Citizens Association, which wrote a report about the Montgomery County speed camera program.  GOCA's speed camera task force noted that the selection process from the board's members was cloaked in mystery, that all members of the group appeared to be supporters of speed cameras, and that members could only recall a single instance where a speed camera site had been rejected.  Furthermore, the only way for the public to present input to the CAB-TI's members is to request a new speed camera location, no mechanism for submitting a complaint or concern actually exists.  “Montgomery County should revise the Citizen’s Advisory Board for Traffic Issues (CAB-TI) applicable to the speed camera program, ensuring the Board is selected independently of the MCPD and ATEU, has established term limits, represents the full spectrum of views on the efficacy of speed camera usage, and that its views shall be considered by the ATEU”  wrote GOCA in a letter to Montgomery County.  Montgomery County's Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit (ATEU) coldly responded to GOA's complaint by defending the culture of secrecy under which this committee, conduct their business away from public scrutiny : “the deliberative process surrounding the selection of speed camera locations – like the processes for determining where and when other law enforcement operations will be conducted – is not public, nor should it be.

CAB-TI Utilized as Public Relations Tool
References to the CAB-TI were used by the county in publications as though pubic input was sought.  In fact, a member of the CAB-TI submitted a letter to the editor of the Gazette Newspapers supporting speed cameras.  This letter was presented as the view of an independent citizen without mentioning the fact that Captain Didone collaborated in the writing of the letter, according to a document obtained under a public information act request,  "I want it to be seen as a dispassionate citizen response", wrote CAB-TI member Alan Freeman to Captain Didone.  The letter ultimately printed by the Gazette made no mention of the fact that the head of the county's speed camera program participated in its writing.



The fact that the CAB-TI is being presented as a form of collaborating with the pubic and as a vehicle for public input, even though all who hold differing views from the official county policy are not permitted to even observe or be made aware of its meetings.

OMA Loophole Undercuts Transparency on a Broad Range of Issues
It was revealed in the County's response to the complaint that each of the Montgomery County's Police Divisions has its own “Police Citizen Advisory Board” whose membership is exclusively controlled by the MCPD, whose meetings are closed to the public and no public notices or agendas given.  Since meeting minutes are not required to be kept, the public and the press has no way of knowing what issues are being discussed in ANY of these board's meetings, who is being permitted to attend, or even whether pending legislation is being discussed.

The definition of a “public body” under the Open Meetings Act includes “any multimember board, commission, or committee appointed by the Governor or the chief executive authority of a political subdivision of the State, or appointed by an official who is subject to the policy direction of the Governor or chief executive authority of the political subdivision, if the entity includes in its membership at least 2 individuals not employed by the State or a political subdivision.”  The OMA manual specifically states that the OMA can apply to “informal citizens groups” which are carrying out an “advisory function”.  The belief of the Maryland Drivers Alliance was (and still is) that by the plain text meaning of the words in the statute,  MCPD should be considered "subject the policy direction" of the county executive since they are subject to executive orders, and particularly because county law explicitly states that the selection of speed camera locations is to be done by executive order.   However the compliance board accepted the loophole presented by the Montgomery County Attorney.  In so doing they have permitted any local government to subvert the intent of the Open Meetings Act (ie promoting transparency and open government) if they quietly delegate the selection of a citizen advisory committee's members to a merit employee who heads a division.

Sometimes what is legal is the real scandal
County Executive Ike Leggett is the individual
ultimately responsible for the policy allowing the
creation of closed Police Citizen Advisory Boards 
While the county may have the legal resources at their disposal to continue to exist in a loophole such as this one, the fact is that the County Executive and County Council are tacitly condoning this practice which completely undermines the intent of the Open Meetings Act.  Leggett could direct the police chief, who is a political appointee, to require the meetings to be open and announced to the public.  Or the Council or County Executive could simply designate the committees to be public bodies by an official act.  Their decision NOT to do this and that the County Executive permitted the County Attorney to defend this loophole demonstrates that they support the current practice of secrecy.  Certainly they could also simply chosen to make the meetings of these groups public, along with information about who selects the memberships of these groups how the public could raise concerns to them instead of using taxpayer funded legal resources to carve out loopholes in open government laws.

This same loophole could be exploited to create "citizens" groups studying any issue they wish, arrange to invite only those who agree with official policy, don't even inform the public of the group's activities, and then present their decisions as a public relations stunt claiming that public input was sought.  Or, such secret committees could be created without the public ever being made aware at all.  At a time when police activities across the US are under increased scrutiny, it is amazing that Ike Leggett's administration would knowingly permit the MCPD to create of secret committees which exclude any and all potential critics of official policies, and which are excluded from all transparency laws.

This is not the only case where Montgomery County has participated in secret speed camera meetings which exploit loopholes in the Open Meetings Act.  In October 2013, Captain Didone helped to organize a secret “Speed Camera Symposium” under the umbrella of the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League (organizations which receive taxpayer funding but which are exempt from the Open Meetings Act because they are not part of any one local government) which representatives of most speed camera programs attended and where pending speed camera legislation was discussed.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance was invited by a co-sponsor of the event to send a member to observe, but Captain Didone personally banned our representative from attending because he was affiliated with the editor of this site who opposes speed cameras.  The press was also banned from observing the symposium.

Captain Didone and two other representatives of Montgomery County's speed camera program also participated in secret “speed camera reform work group” organized by the vice chair of the Environmental Matters Committee (a position then held by former Delegate James Malone).  Opponents of speed cameras and those who brought complaints to the legislature were not , and the Environmental Matters Committee claimed that no minutes were kept from the work group's meetings.  The leadership of the Environmental Matters Committee claimed after the fact that this work group, which was specifically mentioned by name by both MaCo and Capt Tom Didone in writing, did not need to be made open to the public because it did not officially exist.  Your representatives in the Maryland state legislature have long defended a loophole to permit them to create secret “informal” work groups which draft legislation that are not subject to the Open Meetings Act, and thus keep discussions about the motivations for legislation and their actual intent for including specific changes closed to the press and to any who might disagree.

Let's be clear, it is a CONSCIOUS DECISION by officials within the county government to allow these meetings to operate within such loopholes.  It was clearly expressed by the ATEU's letter to GOCA that the CAB-TI meetings are closed to the public BY DESIGN.  The county government could make all Police Citizens Advisory boards subject to the OMA at any time.  And they could simply not make meetings on controversial subjects closed to the public.  They have simply found a way to avoid the intent of the law (open government) and are exploiting it to the maximum extent possible in order to support a culture of secrecy.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

College Park Speed Camera Ticketed Stopped Bus

College Park issued erroneous speed camera citations, including one issued to a non-moving bus, according to documents obtained from the city under the Public Information Act.

Stopped UMD Shuttle Bus Ticketed By Speed Camera
In a long delayed response to a request for documents pertaining to speed camera errors, college park produced a cache of emails including (heavily redacted) correspondence about a “UM Shuttle” which had been erroneously ticketed by a College Park Speed Camera while it was not moving.  An individual who was apparently manager of the shuttle buses wrote “The photos purportedly show the bus moving at 38mph but it is clearly stopped at the light at Calvert Rd.  The two pictures were taken .5 sec apart and at 38MPH, the bus should have moved a little over 27 feet.”  The buses apparently used a gps fleet management system called “Nextbus”  (something most motorists would not be lucky enough to have data from.  “Nextbus will show a GPS 'ping' periodically during the bus's travel and the closest one to that point shows it approaching the light at Calvert road going 14.9mph.  I ran a report for the entire driver's shift, and he never went over about 32mph which is consistent with that driver.”  The individual referred to the local designee by his first name (Bob).


“This citation will be dismissed” wrote the local designee in response to UM shuttle complaint.

College Park Ticketed Wrong Vehicles
In another case, College Park ticketed a motorist for a vehicle which was not even theirs, according to a heavily redacted letter produced by the city.

Significant portions of the conversation were entirely redacted by College Park from the obtained correspondence.

A report provided by College Park acknowledged that one speed camera issued citations to 23 where "registration plate does NOT match registration plate issued for motor vehicle" (ie the wrong vehicle was cited), while at another camera seven irrefutably erroneous tickets to incorrect vehicles were documented.

College Park “Ombudsman” relied on Optotraffic for Citation Reviews
State law forbids a speed camera contractor from serving the role as “Local designee”, the individual nominally responsible for reviewing citations.    Despite this fact, College Park has relied on their contractor, Optotraffic, to review citations which were claimed to be errors.  In the case above, the citations were forwarded to Optotraffic Employee Anjenette Criner for review.  In this case it was on Optotraffic's acknowledgement of an irrefutable error that resulted in the ticket being confirmed as an error:


College Park received several other complaints about incorrect speed.  However these complaints were not from someone who runs shuttle buses for the University of Maryland or who was on a first name basis with the Local Designee.  Correspondence between College Park and Optotraffic showed that such complaints were routinely referred to Optotraffic for review.

There's no indication that Optotraffic made any effort to verify claims of erroneous speed measurements using citation images or time-distance calculations, relying only on the fact that Optotraffic's proprietary equipment passed their proprietary Optotraffic defined internal checks.

Baltimore City was forced to shut their speed camera down after irrefutable evidence of citations based on erroneous speed measurements became public, and those errors occurred despite the fact that the equipment passed all calibration checks.  Baltimore City's contractors lost a contract worth millions of dollars per year as a result of acknowledging erroneous speed measurements.  Allegations of erroneous speed measurements from College Park cameras were made in the past, and the Town of Cheverly complained of errors produced by Optotraffic cameras including a bicycle photographed at a claimed speed of 57mph.  Optotraffic has in the past denied their equipment has produced erroneous tickets.

Erroneous Tickets Tossed in Court
Several Motorists were successful at disputing erroneous citations in Prince George's District Court.  On September 16, correspondence shows that four tickets were tossed by the court in a single day. In one case it was clear that the cited vehicle did not even belong to the cited driver.
On August 20, two other citations were tossed by the district court.  Under state law, College Park is not required to count tickets tossed by the court as “Erroneous violations”, the city has sole power to decide what is and is not “erroneous”.

Long Delay In Obtaining Records on Speed Camera Errors
Documents pertaining to speed camera errors were initially requested from the City of College Park's “ombudsman” in July of 2015.  On September 18 (almost two months after the original request), we were told by the Local Designee "We are working on compiling the information in response to your request. I should be able to send it to you within the next couple of weeks.",  This did not happen however. So on October 1 we resubmitted our request as a formal Maryland Public Information Act request, citing new provision of the MPIA enacted this year, and asked for additional documents.  Despite being told that our already overdue request would be expedited, it still required an additional 30 days and a demand for a significant fee before the city produced the requested documents.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Insurance Company AAA Actively Promotes Speed Cameras

You've seen them in the news and on TV talking about speed cameras in Maryland and DC, and may have believed that AAA has been hard at work defending motorist's rights on this issue.

If so we are sorry to have to break it to you, but the truth is that AAA is an insurance company which supports and lobbies in favor of speed cameras.  

Reality Check
AAA testified IN FAVOR of statewide speed cameras in Maryland in 2009.
"On behalf of our approximately 900,000 Maryland members, AAA Mid-Atlantic supports SB 277, which would expand the authority to use speed monitoring systems statewide and would add the authority to use them in highway work zones." wrote AAA Mid Atlantic in their 2009 testimony.

AAA also opposed the repeal of speed cameras in 2013, side a public hearing next to representatives of one of the most troubled local speed camera programs in the state(Forest Heights), and in opposition to motorists who came to support repeal, to support the continuation of Maryland's speed camera law.

SEE THE VIDEO ON GENERAL ASSEMBLY WEBSITE OF 2013 SPEED CAMERA REPEAL BILL TESTIMONY where AAA sided against motorists and against the speed camera repeal bill.  AAA's team of three lobbyists start their testimony in opposition to repeal at time index 2:43:00.
AAA's John Townsend and Regina Alvarez Testifying AGAINST the Repeal of Speed Cameras

Lon Anderson: AAA Mid Atlantic Director of Public and Government Relations
In fact AAA didn't just jump on the speed camera bandwagon after the fact, they were helping to pull the wagon.  All the way back in 2002, AAA Mid Atlantic's Lon Anderson bemoaned that speed cameras had not been authorized by the legislature at that time, and stated to the Gazette that AAA had testified in favor of those bills.  "If this legislation had been enacted ... we could have had a model program in the nationstated Anderson.  If Lon Anderson and AAA had their way, Maryland wouldn't have gotten its first speed cameras in 2007... we'd have gotten them five years sooner.

The vote on statewide speed cameras in 2009 was VERY CLOSE in the state senate, down to just a few votes.  If AAA had come out strongly against this, rather than providing political cover with their support, we would likely not have statewide speed cameras in Maryland today.

In fact Lon Anderson took credit for Maryland's Statewide Speed cameras being enacted.  When speaking with Washington Post's Dr Gridlock in 2010 Lon Anderson said : "I worked hard to get the speed camera law passed in Maryland, and the red light camera laws reinstated in Virginia."

We know some of you may be surprised to hear this.  But then how would AAA representatives be able to go on TV to complain about how badly Maryland's speed cameras have been administered if they hadn't worked to put them there in the first place?

AAA continues to claim that they do not oppose speed cameras.  AAA's John Townsend was quoted by WTOP stating "We aren't against speed cameras. We have worked with Montgomery County and Prince George's County to make sure they have a camera program that is valid, earnest and based on integrity and fairness" so there is no basis for assuming their support for speed cameras has changed, and they have been giving PRAISE to the press about the Maryland speed camera programs which they have supported legislatively.

Because Lon Anderson told the Post in 2010 that they had lobbied for speed camera in Maryland and red light cameras, we wondered whether they would support speed cameras in Virginia as well.  AAA told one motorists that because there is not currently legislation pending in Virginia at this time, they therefore have not taken a position.  However it is inevitable that such legislation will be considered in Virginia sooner or later, and AAA's reply seems to leave open that they could support speed cameras when (not if) the matter is brought up in that state.  We asked Lon Anderson by email  on September 9th "Will AAA Pledge NOT to support speed cameras in Virginia, should they every come before the legislature?"  To date we have received no response from Lon Anderson regarding that pledge.
The Maryland Drivers Alliance strongly recommends that
motorists should not rely on AAA to speak for them.
Fool me once, shame on you
Fool me twice, shame on me

The fact is AAA is just another insurance company which happens to sell vacation packages and amusement park tickets.  They simply occasionally use speed cameras for PR and as a way from distracting their members in other parts of the US from their vastly inconsistent lobbying positions on motorist rights.  The reality is they are a big part of the reason Maryland has speed cameras today.  Motorists who want an organization which will consistently fight to defend motorist rights should dump AAA and join the National Motorists Association.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Montgomery County Provides Speed Camera Error Records After Months Of Delays

Portion of Acknowledged Speed Camera Errors in FY15
Montgomery County has produced records of dozens of erroneous speed camera errors which they had previously claimed to have no records of, months after our original request for the documents.

Months of Delays Getting Error Records
A public records request was originally placed with Montgomery County on June 22 for a number of documents pertaining to speed camera errors and voided citations. While Montgomery County produced some of the records on July 30 of this year --- which was not within the 30 day time period allowable by state law -- the disclosure did not include records of voided citations during the requested time period. We repeated our request to the county on August 3rd, pointing out that we has requested records of voided citations and that this was not included.

On August 21, the county responded with a few examples of correspondence about a small number of citations which had been voided by the county's “Local Designee”. However we were aware that this was only a small subset of the erroneous citations that had been issued.  In the county's August disclosure they stated “Montgomery County Does Not Keep Track of administratively voided citations that were voided due to the discretion of the Montgomery County Service Representative”. We responded that this was impossible for a number of reasons, not the least of which because this would be a violation of a statutory requirement to provide a report of the number of citations voided due to errors to the state, not to mention the fact that this would fly in the face of everything we knew about how an information technology system of the sort that manages their citations would normally be run.

Finally, in a letter dated September 28th (three months after our original request), Montgomery County produced additional records that had been excluded from the August disclosure, proving that the prior disclosures were in fact incomplete.


Some Citations Due to Employee Error Not Voided Until After Our Inquiries
The document provided showed that the largest number of voided citations were the result of batches of voids due labeled as "Co Employee Error". One batch of citations from a camera at 1000 Block of Quince Orchard Road on January 31, 2015 -- for which no specific cause of the error was cited -- were responsible for 35 erroneous citations. Most of these citations were voided in February, however two of these were not voided until September 24.... which is after The Maryland Drivers Alliance had requested the information about voided citations for the third time. Likewise, another batch of citations which we previously reported on, was issued from a camera on 10700 Block of River Road between March 19 and March 21. Again we note that while most of these citations were voided in April, two of these were not voided until August 11... after we had asked for records about erroneous citations at this specific location for a second time. It is our opinion that those particular citations might not have been voided had The Maryland Drivers Alliance not insisted on access to these records.

“Ombudsman” Not Responsible For Correcting Most Errors
An amendment to state law created a position called the "Local Designee" who is tasked with reviewing complaints about citations and which was claimed by proponents of the change who support speed cameras to be an "ombudsman" that would void erroneous citations.  Of the voided citations which were obvious enough that the county's program could not deny their existence, less than nine percent of those in the report were actually voided by the "ombudsman".  The list we were provided showed that the Local Designee acknowledged only 11 errors. 20 of the acknowledged errors were listed as being the result of either an “ERRONEOUS—VENDOR” (meaning that it was actually the speed camera contractor who voided them).
 
Montgomery County's "ombudsman" is actually the deputy Director of the Traffic Division, an individual who is the second in command to Captain Tom Didone (head of the speed camera program).  Montgomery County has disavowed the use of the term "ombudsman" to describe the local designee, in writing, several times, despite having used that term while testifying to the legislature for the creation of this role as a way of avoiding stronger measures such as audits and requiring nationally recognized testing standards for equipment that were supported by other lawmakers.

The county did receive additional complaints claiming errors, and other individuals have disputed citations in court, however the county only confirmed the existence of those listed here. In particular, the only type of error which the local designee acknowledged the existence of were those where the incorrect vehicle was cited.


In one case that we previously reported on, a motorist complained about a citation to the Local Designee who stated that the citation was valid, however in fact that particular citation had already been identified as being due to a “processing error” where the device was improperly configured, and the Local Designee had not detected that error. The Maryland Drivers Alliance submitted a question to the local designee regarding how this was possible, but the Local Designee never responded to that question after several months and several inquiries from us.  State law REQUIRES the Local Designee to provide a written response to questions and concerns, however the Local Designee has yet to provide responses to these questions after several months. The Maryland Drivers Alliance submitted a complaint about this lack of response from the Local Designee to Montgomery County, which was also not responded to.

Even the data provided by the County in this disclosure contains apparent errors.  For example, one citation was listed as being voided on 10/21/2015.... weeks after the date of the disclosure.

Given previous incomplete disclosures, we have no way of knowing whether this is the complete set of erroneous citations the county.  State law specifically says that any citations voided by a court are not considered "errors" -- giving the county and their vendor a monopoly over the ability to decide what constitutes an error and what is not.  For example, in 2009-2009, Montgomery County systematically issued many citations on days when there was no record of legally required calibration tests being performed and when operators for the equipment were not on duty, but these citations were not voided or refunded.

If you have received a citation you believe  may be an error, or if you have been notified that a citation was voided due to an error, please Contact the Maryland Drivers Alliance.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wicomico County to End Speed Camera Contract

Wicomico County will not renew its speed camera contract, according to an article in DelmarvaNow.com.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver said that the county contract with Redspeed will not be renewed after it expires in December.  According to DelmarvaNow:
"Culver said drivers have changed their habits and the Wicomico County cameras are no longer making money like they used to. The money that came in would go toward public safety, he said." 
Wicomico's program was far smaller than speed camera programs run by more populous jurisdictions such as Montgomery, Prince George's, or Howard County.   Monthly revenues from the program peaked in the summer of 2013.  But by FY2015-2016 revenues had shriveled up to the point where the county only projected to bring in $35,000 for the year, according to the county budget.

Wicomoco County began their program in 2012.  A 2014 audit off the program showed that ticket revenues showed a marked, unexplained increase in the summer of 2013.  In November of 2013, the vendor issued a refund from a number of citations after a number of local school teachers claimed to have received erroneous citations.  Redspeed provided the following explanation for that refund:

Wicomico's contract with Redspeed was originally a per-ticket arrangement commonly referred to as a "bounty system".   The 2014 audit revealed that the this arrangement was changed in 2013 to avoid "the appearance of a bounty system".   However in fact what they did was merely break the single per-ticket fee into four separate per-ticket fee, meaning that they were paying the vendor exactly the same amount per ticket after the change and were still paying based on ticket volume regardless of the "appearance" they were attempting to present.


While the county is set to end their program for now, they are reserving the right to bring them back in the future.  Meanwhile the City of Salisbury will continue using speed cameras.  Salisbury's cameras, unlike Wicomico's, have been bringing in revenue.  Salisbury reported to have generated $768,000 from speed cameras in the last fiscal year, according to WBOC.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Traffic Ticket Troubles For Montgomery County Council Member

A Montgomery County lawmaker found himself on the wrong side of the law yet again, as Maryland court records show that Council member Craig Rice received two traffic tickets this past August.
 

In December 2013, it was reported that Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice had run up over $1000 worth of unpaid traffic and parking tickets before being confronted by the press.   Mr Rice was apparently cited for traffic violations yet again this summer, when court records show that Mr Rice received citations for speeding and “changing lanes when unsafe”while in Ocean City Maryland on August 13.

The court records show that Mr Rice plead guilty to driving 50mph in a 35mph zone, more than 40% over the legally posted speed limit.

Council Member Craig Rice:
Chronic Traffic Violator and Hypocrite
At the time when WJLA confronted Mr Rice about unpaid traffic citations in 2013, DC's traffic violation system showed citations for a speed camera ticket and parking fines, which he paid after being confronted by reporters.  According to Maryland Court records, Mr Rice had previously received citations for "EXCEEDING MAXIMUM SPEED: 44 MPH IN A POSTED 35 MPH ZONE' in 2012, and a " FAILURE TO OBEY PROPERLY PLACED TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICE INSTRUCTIONS" in 2013, as well as 2 prior traffic violations from 2011 which have since been purged from the court system.

Mr Rice had also caught flack for illegal parking in DC back in 2009.

Mr Rice has been a supporter of Montgomery County's automated traffic enforcement program.  Council Member Rice has repeatedly refused to respond to questions from the editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website (who is a resident of his district) about the county's program.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Elephant In the Room on Regional Traffic: New Potomac River Crossing Off The Table for Maryland

Transportation Planners in Maryland and Virginia continue to be at odds about the prospect of a new Potomac River Crossing.  Leaders in Virginia have long been calling for a new bridge, however officials in Maryland and particularly Montgomery County have kept this off the table.

Virginia has again been looking closely at the issue, claiming that a new bridge is necessary to support future economic growth and address traffic concerns.  But Montgomery County officials and many residents have claimed that a new crossing would increase sprawl.  From Virginia's perspective their hands are largely tied, since Maryland and DC actually own the river.  As past efforts to open a dialog with Maryland about a new crossing have gone nowhere, Virginia is now looking at the possibility of extending the I-495 express lanes over the American Legion Bridge as a possible alternative solution.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has been particularly cold to the idea of any new river crossing.  In September 2014 Leggett was asked in an online discussion about a Potomac River Crossing, Leggett acknowledged the problems caused by the region's ever worsening traffic congestion but stated “The question whether a second bridge will seriously alleviate these concerns without impacting our environment and agricultural reserve has been deemed to be not worthy of the tremendous risk.”  In a December 2014 discussion, Leggett was asked about a Potomac River Crossing and responded  “The idea of a bridge crossing the Potomac River through Montgomery County to Virginia has been debated for decades, and ultimately it was decided not to build it. The view is that such a bridge would destroy our Agricultural Reserve, which is one of the features of our County of which I'm most proud."  And in April 2015, when a resident complained about the cost of the purple line and Silver Spring Transit Center suggested  that the priority should be a new bridge into NoVa, Leggett declined to even address the idea of a new bridge at all, and instead said the solution is to spend more on transit.

Of course in reality elected officials in Montgomery County do not consider transit to be a solution to their own transportation needs.  Neither County Executive Ike Leggett nor any members of the County Council take transit to work.

So why is this such a big deal?  Well, right now it is a bare minimum of 35 miles driving distance, or a minimum of 48 minutes driving time, between the American Legion Bridge and the next river crossing to the north at Point of Rocks on the Maryland side, or 43 miles on the Virginia side of the river.

This means that anyone trying to get from Montgomery County or Prince George's County into any point in Virginia must cross the same single bridge, no other viable option exists without adding at least 35 miles to the trip.  The result of this is known to anyone who commutes south on I-270... even if they don't actually cross the river themselves they must still confront almost daily traffic backups which on a bad day can extend all the way into Frederick County.

As bad as the scarcity of river crossings is for Virginia and Maryland motorists, the situation is EVEN WORSE for transit users.  A commuter trying to take metro from Gaithersburg to Reston is in for an over two hour ride, since one must transit all the way to the center of DC to change from the red line to the Silver line (that is assuming you are both starting and ending somewhere transit actually goes).  And without additional river crossing there is virtually nothing that can be done to improve the situation for transit users in suburban Maryland and VA who must cross the river, since the funny thing about buses and trains is that they can't swim.

So what do you think?

Do Maryland and Virginia need a new Potomac River Crossing west of the American Legion Bridge?

(Note: poll results may take up to 1 minute to update)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Four good reasons why you should always request a trial for a speed camera citation

Motorists in Maryland who receive a speed camera citation have the option of requesting a trial.   Most motorists don't request a trial and simply pay the $40 fine.  However, there are several good reasons to ALWAYS request a trial, even if you think that you might decide to just pay the fine before trial.

  • Requesting a trial forces the county (or city) that issued the citation to create an evidence package.  As we saw with the Baltimore camera scandal, citation evidence can often be erroneous.  During creation of the evidence package, the citation is  sometimes "administratively voided" and you never even have to appear in court.  Conversely, if you pay the citation without requesting a trial, no further review of the citation is performed.  In other words, if you don't request a trial, you lose $40 even if you did nothing wrong.
     
  • If you go to trial and win, you save $40.   The county (or city) gets nothing. 

  • If you go to trial and lose, you lose around $30 to $45, depending on the amount of the fine that the judge decides to assess.  (The judges usually reduce the fine enough to offset most or all of the court costs that are charged in addition to the fine.)   But even if you lose, the county (or city) gets nothing.  Under state law, the District Court retains the entire fine and court costs to cover the cost of operation.   You read it right:  When you go to court, the county (or city) that issued the citation gets nothing for their effort, even if you lose the case.   We confirmed this with the Administrative Clerk of the District Court.

  • When you appear for a trial, you are helping to maintain justice in the USA.  Remember:  Pleading "not guilty" simply means that you want to exercise your constitutional right to a trial. 

If you request a trial and decide later to pay the citation without appearing in court, you can still pay the $40 fine without incurring any penalty, as long as you pay it before the court date.   Since court dates are usually set at least one month in advance of a trial, you get an extra month to think about what to do about your case.  And if money is tight, you get an extra month to pay the citation, if you decide to do so.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Insurance Industry Proves Accident Rates Declined Equally With or Without Speed Cameras

An Insurance Industry Group is claiming that a study on Montgomery County's speed camera program shows the benefits of speed cameras, even though that study found no difference in accident rate reductions on roads where speed cameras were added compared to roads in a control group without speed cameras.

The study by the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety (IIHS) compared roads in Montgomery County eligible for speed cameras (generally roads with speed limits of up to 35mph) to a set of roads in Fairfax County with comparable speed limits (25-35mph).

The study also wanted to prove the existence of "spillover effects", by comparing a set of roads in Montgomery County with 40mph speed limits to a set of roads in Fairfax County with comparable speed limits.  Data from 2004 through 2013 was examined.

Speed Camera Roads No Better Than Control Group On Accident Rate Improvements
The study showed that accidents rates declined by almost exactly the same amount in ALL FOUR groups from 2004 to 2013, both in the categories with speed cameras and without them.  The percentage decline in accidents was the same in the Montgomery County roads with speed cameras to Montgomery County roads without speed cameras, and was also equal to the decline in accidents in both categories of roads in Fairfax County where speed cameras are not allowed.
Raw Data from IIHS report
Annual Reported Accidents as a percentage of Baseline Year Rate


Speed Cameras May Actually Have Been Worse Than Nothing
It is worth noting that overall accident rates in the study declined between 2004 and 2006 at a similar rate to subsequent years even though Montgomery County's speed camera program was not even in effect until mid 2007.  This had the effect of allowing the IIHS to attribute declines in accident rates to speed cameras which took place before the cameras were deployed.  Had 2006 been used as the baseline year rather than 2004, the result would have been that Fairfax County roads would have seen a larger decline in accidents than Montgomery County.

Comparing the average accident rates from 2004-2006 to accident rates from all of 2008-20013 would have shown that Montgomery County roads fared 5.8% worse than Fairfax County: Accident rates on speed camera roads declined by 21.1% compared to a 26.9% decline on non speed camera roads in Fairfax county.  The "potential spillover" roads in Montgomery County also showed worse results than the control group in Fairfax, with 40mph roads in Montgomery seeing a 12% decline compared to a larger 17% decline on 40mph Fairfax county roads.
Percentage Decline In Accidents before/after 2007; roads in Fairfax County saw a larger decline than Montgomery

The decline in accidents overall is not surprising given that there was a NATIONWIDE 21% decline in traffic fatalities between 2005 and 2009, largely attributed to safety improvements in vehicles such as anti-lock brakes.  Americas roads are in generally substantially safer than they were in 2004, despite the fact that only a 15 states use speed cameras at all, and most states which permit them use them in far fewer locations than Maryland.

The fact that accident rates had improved no more in Montgomery County with speed cameras than in Fairfax County without them was completely left out of the press reports which they provided to media organizations.

Study Made No Effort to Consider Alternative Solutions 
The IIHS study specifically excluded roads from the "control group" where alternative traffic calming measures were applied with at least one Fairfax County road where speed bumps had been added excluded.  Thus no comparison between the use of speed cameras to the application of traffic calming measures was attempted by the study.

The IIHS study concluded that average traffic speeds declined on roads in the study where speed cameras were used, but this effect is comparable to speed reductions which other studies have found to be produced by alternative traffic calming measures such as "radar speed display signs" which do not issue citations.

(Radar speed display sign study links:
http://trrjournalonline.trb.org/doi/abs/10.3141/1973-06
http://www.bellevuewa.gov/pdf/Transportation/2005_Radar_Report.pdf
http://www.westerntransportationinstitute.org/documents/reports/4W2174_RadarWarrants_FinalReport_2011-04-07.pdf
)

And while the study had attempted to prove the presence of "spillover" reductions in traffic speed, no significant effect was observed.  Average traffic speeds declined only 4% on non-speed camera roads in Montgomery, an amount easily attributable to increasing traffic congestion over the past ten years, with comparable roads in Fairfax County showing a 3% decrease in speeds.

The IIHS study also included a push poll survey which concluded that the majority of Montgomery County residents support speed cameras.  However the actual most common response was actually non-participation, since only 9% of those called actually completed the IIHS's survey.  The results from the IIHS poll seem markedly different from the results of a poll conducted by WTOP in 2012 where 64% of DC area respondents believed the primary role of speed and red light cameras is to generate revenue.

IIHS Made No Effort To Examine Possible Negatives of Cameras 
The study by the IIHS, a group which represents the insurance industry, made no effort to examine whether there were any complaints, concerns, or problems with  Montgomery County's program.  As such it seemed to ignore the possibility that any legitimate issues of fairness, integrity, profiteering, or other concerns might exist.  Among the issues NOT examined by the IIHS study:
  • Montgomery County invented the "Bounty system" (paying contractors a cut of each citation), and they still have a bounty system today despite promises by lawmakers to "end the bounty system", and despite having a clause in their contract that would let them switch from a bounty system to a flat fee.
  • The Montgomery County ATEU has a STATED preference for conducting secret meetings.  Even their so called "citizens advisory board" meets in secret, keeps no minutes, and gives no public notice of meetings.
  • Local speed camera programs, including Montgomery County, issue erroneous speed camera tickets on a regular basis.  Elsewhere in Maryland, Baltimore City's program was shut down when it was revealed they had issued thousands of erroneous citations because of false speed readings due to "radar effects".  Why did the IIHS not examine Baltimore's utterly failed program, which was run by the same contractor which runs Montgomery County's?
  • They ticket people who were not the driver, and Montgomery County has fought with every means they have to keep the burden of proof on the accused in such cases.
  • They have adopted speed cameras as the first choice for every traffic safety problem, to the exclusion of other traffic engineering solutions.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
  • Defendants have been denied the right to confront their accuser in court, even those who requested the camera operator testify. 
Supporters of speed cameras call Montgomery County a "model program".  In  our opinion, the problem is that this may be true.  When Montgomery County breaks promises made to the public other jurisdictions follow suit and double down on it.

Insurance Industry: Put Your Money Where Their Mouth Is
The correct conclusion from the IIHS study should be that our roads are getting much safer without speed cameras, and that better alternatives exist for controlling speeds where that is needed.  The lack of examination for possible negatives of speed cameras proves that the insurance industry does not care about and integrity of our justice system.  Unfortunately the Insurance Industry believes that it is in their financial interest to diminish people's legal rights such that people accused of traffic violations are presumed guilty and have no defense -- even to the point where individuals can be accused and found guilty of offenses that happened when they were not even present.  And while the insurance industry advocates for the use of speed cameras, jurisdictions such as Maryland and DC which have adopted them in far greater proportions than the rest of the US pay much more for insurance than the national average.  Maryland and DC are the 11th and 3rd most expensive locations for auto insurance respectively.  A fair answer to the IIHS's conclusions would be that the auto insurance industry should put their money where their mouth is and lower Maryland's insurance rates.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Montgomery Never Voided Tickets Issued With Skipped Calibration Tests

For several years, Montgomery County routinely issued speed camera citations on days where a basic requirement of the law for daily calibration logs was not met, yet refunds were never issued after this fact was disclosed.

We previously reported in 2010 that Montgomery County did not have daily setup logs for numerous days where citations were issued for many of their speed cameras. State law required the following:

"(3) A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set–up log for a speed monitoring system that:
(i) States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed the manufacturer–specified self–test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;
(ii) Shall be kept on file; and
(iii) Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section."

We had hoped that Montgomery County would do the right thing and refund citations which had been issued when this basic calibration requirement – a requirement intended to protect the public from faulty speed cameras readings – was not met. However that never happened, and Montgomery County instead chose to keep the loot.
Sure enough the documents provided showed that NONE of the dates we requested in 2009 or 2010 had actual daily setup logs which met this requirement.  This included a date in September four months after our report on this issue and after the Washington Examiner reported this issue.... a time period which should have been more than adequate for Montgomery County to change their procedures.

When the press first discovered this fact, the county's reaction was one of total contempt for the law. Captain John Damesky, who headed the county's speed camera program at the time, responded to the Washington Examiner "We're not going to do this [test] every day. We're just not going to do that." --- denying that the county had an obligation to meet the clear wording of state law.  Montgomery County did eventually change their practices regarding how these calibration tests were performed, but only many months after the press became aware of the issue.  The dates when lapses were detected were primarily on weekends and holidays (since Montgomery County issues citations 24/7 at locations which are not inside school zones) but at the time it appears no speed camera operators were on duty to run required tests and fill out required logs.  

To follow up on this issue in June of 2015, a public information act request was sent to Montgomery County by a supporter of this site requested daily calibration logs for one camera located near Olney at 19600 Georgia Avenue northbound on the following dates: 9/6/2009, 10/31/2009, 11/28/2009, 12/27/2009, 1/3/2009, 1/03/2009, 1/31/2009, 2/14/2010, 4/3/2010, 5/30/2010, 9/5/2010, 5/18/2013. The requested dates included weekends when we were aware Montgomery County was issuing citations, but when we suspected they did not have speed camera operator on duty to meet that statutory requirement.  One more recent date in 2013 was included in the request for comparison purposes.

 Instead the county provided start-and-end calibration logs from other dates revealing that there were gaps in the calibration logs of several days.
Date Requested
Start Date of Log Provided
End Date of Log Provided
Gap in days
# Citations Issued on Date
9/6/20099/5/20099/8/20093112
10/31/200910/30/200911/03/2009415
11/28/200911/27/200911/30/2014360
12/27/200912/24/200912/28/2014463
1/3/200912/31/20091/4/2010437
1/31/20091/29/20102/1/2010321
2/14/20102/13/20102/16/2010329
4/3/20104/2/20104/5/2010340
5/30/20105/28/20106/1/2010477
9/5/20109/3/20109/7/20104(ie NOT "daily")44
5/18/20135/17/20135/18/20131 (ie "daily")40

The public information act also include a request for records showing how many of the citations issued were refunded or voided. The county responded to this that portion of the request “There has been no administrative voiding or refunding on the referenced dates above”.
In addition to having logs for numerous days missing, many of the logs showed that the "operator" had "signed" to having performed a step in the setup procedure which was BLANK on the logs.  This apparent error existed in daily setup logs day after day, month after month, FOR YEARS, yet thousands of citations were approved for cameras with these defective logs without question.  The cameras were simply assumed to be in perfect working order, even though the logs themselves were not.

Other local governments have issued refunds for citations where annual calibration requirements were not met.  However Montgomery County went to court, at taxpayer expense, to support the principal that a speed camera program could not be sued for the refund of speed camera tickets that have already paid, regardless of the reason. As such, it currently appears that when it comes to a SYSTEMATIC issue with Montgomery County's speed camera, the rule they follow is “Once you have their money, never give it back”. The addition of a so called “Ombudsman” to Montgomery County's program (a term they have since rejected as describing the program's “Local Designee”), has not changed this at all, since it did not result in refunds for this potentially very large number of illegally issued citations.

Montgomery County may have succeeded in getting the legislature to write them a free pass on similar issues that may occur in the future.  In 2014, under the guise of “reform” to the system, the legislature passed a change to state law which modified the wording of the requirement for daily setup logs to instead say “(3)   A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set–up log for a speed monitoring system that: (i)   States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed or reviewed and evaluated the manufacturer–specified daily self–test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;”.   This seemingly minor change removes the requirement that the person signing the logs actually perform the test, or witness that it actually took place.  This not only permits an additional level of “hearsay evidence” to be used against defendants in speed camera hearings, since the operators could testify to the results of tests which were performed when they were not even on duty.  Thus a local government could argue this change makes it legal to have one single "operator" push a button from a remote location to electronically "sign" all logs for a day without ever observing the camera itself. The legislation which enacted this change was part of the “speed camera reform act of 2014”, which was written by a speed camera reform legislative work group whose meetings included at least three members of Montgomery County's automated traffic division; opponents of speed cameras were not invited.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Montgomery County Finally Acknowledges "Processing Errors"

More than three months after we originally asked Montgomery County to explain the cause of "processing errors" reported to us by motorists, Montgomery County has finally acknowledge that the case was not isolated to a single citation and that in fact 123 alleged speed camera violations needed to be voided after a speed camera located on River Road was improperly configured.

The incident was first reported to us by a motorist who had requested that Montgomery County's "Local Designee" review a citation she had received on a day in March 2015 when her car was nowhere near Montgomery County. The Local Designee declared the citation was legitimate.   However a few days later, that motorist received a form letter void notice for the citation, which was dated EARLIER than the local designee's response.

On April 23, we asked Montgomery County's "Local Designee" to provide an explanation for the cause of the processing error.  This was not answered.  On June 5 we repeatedly asked the local designee to explain the cause of the processing errors, among other questions, but the Local Designee never provided a response to that, despite a legal requirement that the local designee respond to questions or concerns "withing a reasonable period of time" according to state law.

On June 22 we sent Montgomery County a public information request for records about voided citations, including .  On July 30, 8 days after the legally required time limit for responding to public information act requests, the county sent a response that confirmed 123 violations needed to be voided from March 28 through March 31, when a camera had been improperly configured.  "GM All, Per our conversation on Wednesday all events n March28 to March 31 will need to be voided due to tech entering wrong date (123 violations)." stated an email provided by the MCPD.  Daily setup logs from March 18-April 1 were also part of the request, but no calibration logs dated 3/28, 3/29, or 3/30 were included in the responsive documents.

However our MPIA request had actually been for records of all voided citations from March 18 to the date of our request, and the county ONLY provided records pertaining to this single event.  We have received information that other citations were voided in this time period, and informed the MCPD that we considered their response incomplete for that reason --- and have requested that they also provide records of voided "processing errors" which they did not already know we were aware of.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

College Park Speed Camera Revenues Surge

Excerpt of revenues from College Park budget
The City of College Park's gross speed camera revenues increase by more than a million dollars over the previous year's level, according to the city budget.

In FY2014, College Park had brought in $1,529,721 in speed camera funds.  The city had budgeted $1,600,000 for FY2015, but announced actual revenues of $2,695,065 in FY15 in the city's requested budget for FY16.  This amounts to a 76% increase in revenues in a single year.

This money is divided between the city and their contractor, Optotraffic, who receives a percentage-cut bounty off of camera revenues.  Optotraffic saw their piece of the action increase from $596,591 in FY14 to $1,051,075 in FY15.

The revenue increase was due to the the fact that Speed limits on a portion of Rhode Island Avenue were lowered by 5 mph and the city deployed three new speed cameras.   College Park also began issuing citations 24/7 and on weekends due to a specific exception which permits them to run speed cameras outside school zones.

The city's total general fund revenues were reported to be $13,507,069.  The city's $1,643,990 cut of speed camera ticket revenues constitutes approximately 12% the amount of general fund revenues.