Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Maryland Considers Autonomous Car Legislation

Legislation has been submitted to the State Senate which allow the Motor Vehicle Administration to create regulations for registering and testing autonomous vehicles in Maryland.

SB-009 as initially submitted is very simple, and authorizes the administration, in consultation with State Police, to adopt regulations governing 1)  The inspection, registration, and safe testing and operation of autonomous and connected vehicles; and 2) the safe testing and operation of autonomous technologies on highways in the state.  However the effects of the technology could eventually be complex and profound.

Proponents of autonomous vehicles say the technology will ultimately be safer than human drivers and will enable people who cannot drive to have more mobility.  Dozens of companies are working on the technology, including well known efforts by Google and Tesla.  Some companies are investigating creating self driving trucks for shipping.  However there still exist many regulatory, liability, and technical constraints.  For example Google cars are deliberately limited to traveling at 25mph, and most autonomous cars still require a human driver to take over under certain circumstances.  There are also concerns about how well autonomous vehicles and human drivers will interact.

The fiscal policy notes for the bill recognize that there are different level of autonomy between full driver control and full autonomy.  About 20 states are currently considering legislation with respect to self driving cars.  The bill fiscal policy notes state "According  to  NCSL,  several  issues  that  states  are  considering include  liability,  appropriate  levels  of  insurance,  cybersecurity,  and the  application  of distracted driving laws for the individual who engages the autonomous vehicle."

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Baltimore County Cites Stopped Car for Speeding

Baltimore County issued a speed camera citation to a car which had stopped to allow an ambulance to pass for speeding, and then failed to identify the obvious error after the motorists requested the citation be reviewed.

The camera, located near the 2700 block of Putty Hill Avenue, snapped the photo in the evening of December 16 as the motorist had moved over to allow an ambulance to pass.  A short time later the motorist received a citation in the mail.

The photos clearly showed that while the ambulance progressed significantly in the 0.4 seconds between photos, and is significantly farther from the camera in the second image, the car which was cited had barely moved at all.
Citation Images have been redacted to protect the innocent
Baltimore County requires anyone who wants their citation review to fill out a form and send it to their citation review email address, which she did on December 28th.  She politely wrote to the County "Ombudsman":
"I explicitly remember that I slowed down from approximately 30mph and pulled over to allow an ambulance to pass.  I believe that the speed captured was that of the ambulance and not of my vehicle."..."the two images captured show that my vehicle has barely moved, but that the ambulance has moved a distance consistent with 45mph.  I ask that you please review all information you have, including any speed violation captured by the motion of the ambulance. I thank you for your time."

Despite the fact that the request pointed out the presence of the ambulance and the fact that her vehicle had barely moved, Baltimore County upheld the citation.  She contacted the Maryland Drivers Alliance, and then contacted the county again by email... this time copying members of the press, county council, and state legislature on her complaint.

A day later she received a response from Cpl Charles Schruhl, supervisor of Baltimore County's automated traffic enforcement unit, acknowledging the error and stating the citation would be voided.

Despite the fact that the citation was issued in error, and despite the fact that the citation was not identified as erroneous when it was supposedly reviewed by their "Ombudsman" after the nature of the error had been specifically pointed out, Cpl Schruhl defended both the accuracy of their equipment and their "Ombudsman's" citation review procedures:
"The “Ombudsman” request was handled properly based on their procedures and the requirements under the statute.  The system was operating properly.  However, you are correct in your statement regarding radar not being able to distinguish between the vehicles.  That has nothing to do with the “radar effects”.    This was not an error on the part of the radar, Xerox or the system itself but a limitation of radar in general."
While the county claimed that the "Ombudsman request was handled properly", neither the presence of a large bright red and yellow ambulance in the photos nor the fact that the motorist specifically referenced this in her review request raised any red flag for the reviewer.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Red Light Camera Company Settles Bribery Case With Feds

Red Light Camera Company Redflex has reached a settlement in a bribery case with the US Department of Justice.  

Under the terms of the agreement, Redflex must pay the city of Columbus Ohio a fine of $100,000 and whatever amount a Chicago judge decides, where Redflex is facing a $382 million suit.  Redflex must also cooperate with the Justice Department in any investigation into Redflex activities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia, where the company's former executive vice president admitted he bribed public officials.  Redflex must also cooperate with Australian authorities investigating the company's activities. 

By agreeing to the deal, Redflex avoids being criminally prosecuted for bribery actions in Chicago and Columbus.  

The bribery case had already resulted in criminal prosecutions.  Former Redflex CEO Karen Finley was convicted for bribes paid to elected officials in an attempt to win or expand contracts with Chicago and Columbus.  Finley was sentenced to 30 months in jail,  but won a reprieve after claiming she was suffering from medial issues.  The investigations also resulted in the convictions of John Bills, a former Chicago assistant transportation commissioner, who was convicted of accepting cash and benefits from Redflex.  Lobbyist John Raphael plead guilty to extorting cash from Redflex to pass on as bribes to elected officials in Ohio.

Monday, December 26, 2016

PG County Speed Camera Involved in "Life Threatening" Collision

A speed camera in Upper Marlboro was hit in a collision which resulted in serious injury, according to a report on Patch.com.

According to the report, Prince George's County Fire/EMS reported on 12/19/2016 that rescue personnel responded too a crash where the "vehicle hit [a] speed camera in front of Riverdale Baptist Church", located at 1177 Largo Road in Upper Marlboro.


One person was trapped in the vehicle and needed to be extracted, and was transported to a trauma center with life-threatening injuries.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hogan Spars With Democrats Over Transportation Law

Governor Larry has stated his "top priority" next year will be to seek the repeal of legislation which he says will require him to stop work on dozens of transportation projects in Maryland.

In a statement, Governor Hogan stated that he would submit "emergency legislation" repeal the bill passed by the 2016 General Assembly over Hogan's Veto which requires him to "rank" all transportation projects in the state.  “It will wreak havoc on the entire state transportation system and usurp important authority away from local governments and away from the executive branch of state government, giving authority instead to lobbyists and special interest groups."

The legislation, which Hogan described as a "Road Kill" law, created a "scoring system" for transportation projects and required the State to rank all transportation projects according to that system.  "Under the legislatively mandated scoring system, 66 out of 73 transportation projects are fully canceled"

Democratic lawmakers have argued that the bill does not kill any projects and that the final decision as to what is funded is with the Governor.  Democratic leadership have stated that the purpose of the legislation is to bring more transparency to the process of deciding which state transportation projects receive funding.   Sen. Roger Manno,  (D-Montgomery), argued that "We're just trying to get this done," "I'm from Montgomery County — we can accept it if we don't get a project we want," he said. "We just want to know why."

Hogan and Republican legislators have charged that the law was intended to tie the governor's hands by forcing him to subject each project to the scoring system, and to justify funding for any project that didn't score at the top of the formula.  Republican lawmakers and representatives of some rural counties have claimed that the scoring system is weighted toward mass-transit projects and against projects located in rural areas outside major urban centers.  "The bill says mass transit only," State Sen. Andrew Serafini (R-Washington County) argued "It's messing with all but two jurisdictions. My push is we gotta repeal."

The rankings include factors such as whether projects enhances existing community assets and increase accessibility to jobs.  Speaker of the House Michael Busch argued "The people of Maryland want a transparent government where they understand how politicians are spending their money. The law requires the Governor to simply explain his spending decisions, not hide behind them.

In a letter to the Baltimore Sun, incoming GOP chairman Dick Haire criticized the legislation as "Partisan Overreach", and pointed out that of the 31 "goals and measures" the MDOT was required to use to rank projects "none of those 31 factors is to reduce traffic congestion.", stating "Maryland's new law doesn't even use the term "congestion."

Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn stated "The one-size-fits-all ranking system mandated by this law is wrong for Maryland drivers, wrong for employers relying on needed improvements to local roads and bridges, wrong for tourists and visitors traveling to our state, and wrong for Maryland taxpayers who expect their dollars to be spent in an fair and equitable manner on projects that will improve their daily lives”.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Montgomery County Shuts Off Red Light Camera Over Yellow Light Timing Issue

The Montgomery County Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit has temporarily turned off a red light camera located at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road after it was revealed that the timing does not meet the current SHA yellow light timing standard, according to a report by WJLA.

Concerns were first raised after a motorist discovered a ticket she received from the camera, a fraction of a second after the light changed, showed a yellow light time of "2.9s".  The minimum yellow light timing permitted by ANY yellow light anywhere is 3 seconds.  The yellow light in question claimed to have been timed at 3 seconds, according to the Montgomery County.  Nevertheless both the Maryland Drivers Alliance and WJLA independently timed the light at slightly less than 3 seconds.




Yellow lights are supposed to be timed according to a formula based on traffic speed.  For a 35mph road, the formula would normally give duration of 3.5s.  However the Montgomery County DOT claims that it is acceptable to use a slower speed than the speed limit due to the fact that the light in question was a left turn signal.  But even using the DOT's stated speed of 27mph, the computed speed based on the ITE formula is still greater than 3 seconds, and the DOT rounded the time down when configuring the yellow light.

But more significantly, in May of 2015 the Maryland SHA increased the minimum yellow light time for all yellow lights to 3.5 seconds.
Excerpt from the Maryland Signal Timing Manual

The traffic light in question is located on a state highway.   Montgomery County failed to increase the yellow light duration for the subsequent 18 months.

Yellow light timing formulas are supposed to take into account the time for humans to perceive and respond to a the signal change and bring a vehicle to a complete stop.  Yellow lights which are too short create a "dilemma zone" where some motorists can neither safely stop nor safely proceed.   The Federal Highway Administration has stated "There is a correlation between the duration of the yellow interval and red light running events. Van der Horst observed a substantial reduction in the number of red-light running events after increasing the duration of the yellow interval from 3 to 4 seconds (in urban areas) and from 4 to 5 seconds (in rural areas).  A small adjustment was observed in the drivers' stopping behavior, which was attributed to the relatively low increase in the duration of the yellow interval."  Some jurisdictions in California which increased yellow light times saw violations drop over 75%.

The Montgomery County Government has defended their right to issue red light camera citations just 0.1 second after a light turns red, making short reductions in yellow light times HIGHLY relevant to the number of potential violations.

WJLA asked several Montgomery County agencies for comment, but no county representative would speak about the matter on camera.  Montgomery County defended the timing of the light by email, claiming it is correctly and legally timed. The county decided to switch the camera off after the media started asking questions until the yellow light is increased to comply with the SHA standard, but no tickets have been refunded.

While the county claims 3 seconds is the correct duration for a left turn signal, it turns out that the left turn signal on Seminary Road at Georgia Avenue, at the same intersection but perpendicular to this yellow light, is set to 4 seconds not 3.  The red light camera only enforces the left turn from Georgia Avenue with a 3(ish) second yellow light, but not the left turn from Seminary road with a 4 second yellow.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance has attempted to conduct our own investigation of the impact of this yellow light duration on red light camera violations.  However Montgomery County denied a Maryland Public Information Act request for the yellow light times their system records for individual violations.  When we requested that they instead provide the portion of the database containing these records, Montgomery County demanded fee of over $19,000 to let us see the records.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Montgomery County Lawmakers Want Speed Limits Lowered to 15-20mph

Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer
believes YOU can't safely drive faster
than 20mph
Local and state lawmakers from Montgomery County are proposing legislation which would significantly lower speed limits on a huge number of roads, including lowering the limits on some roads to 15mph and lowering the "default" speed limit where no speed is posted to 20mph.

State Delegates David Moon(D, Takoma Park) and Korman(D, Burtonsville), in partnership with Montgomery County Council Member Hans Reimer, have introduced three bills to lower speed limits.  One proposed a bill would allow Montgomery County to lower the default speed limit to 20mph.  Under the bill, Montgomery County would be exempted from any requirement to conduct a traffic study to justify lowering the speed limit to 20mph.  Police would therefore have probable cause to stop any motorist traveling over 20mph, and the 20mph zones would also presumably be subject to enforcement by speed cameras, without any traffic engineering study being done to affirm that the speed limit.This state legislation is being presented as a county bill, meaning that motorists from other parts of the state visiting Montgomery County would be subject to the very different "default" speed limits than in their home counties.

Another bill would allow lowering any speed limit in an "Urban District" of Montgomery County to 15mph, turning anyone driving a mere 20mph on these roads into a "speeder".  Currently "Urban Districts" may have speed limits of 25mph.  Another bill would allow speed limits to be lowered to 15mph if there is a school anywhere within 1-2 miles.   The definition of a "School Zone" according to state law and standard traffic engineering practices in Maryland  can only apply to roads within 1/2 mile of a school, meaning the new zones are up to 16 times the size of current school zones and could potentially encompass almost the entire county.  Unlike most of the rest of the state, Montgomery County uses speed cameras outside school zones, so if the act were used to lower speed limits to 20mph cameras could be used to enforce the newly lowered limit even though they were not in school zones... potentially increasing county speed camera revenues significantly.  The legislation would also give police probable cause to stop motorists on these roads merely for driving faster than fifteen mile per hour on a road previously designated as 25mph.

Delegate Moon says that lowering speed limits to 15-20mph is aimed at "correcting" speed limits in urbanized parts of the county. 

Hearings are scheduled on the bills on December 5 and 7Contact information for Montgomery County delegates can be found here.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Opinion: Hold the Montgomery Council Accountable

With so much focus in the media on national elections, it is often forgotten that our local and state elected officials have a much more direct impact on our day to day lives, and how much more your vote really matters in determining the outcome of such votes.

Residents of Maryland don't get to choose state lawmakers this year.  Nor do residents of many areas get to pick their elected county officials.  But that does not mean your vote does not count when it comes to local matter.  Who votes and how they vote still has an impact on how seriously the concerns of different constituencies are taken, and local ballot questions are still very important.

In Montgomery County in particular, there are several questions on that ballot which they can decide.  "Question B" would create term limits on the Montgomery County council, to a maximum of three terms.  Not surprisingly, supporters of the county status quo don't want you to vote for this.  In fact, they are so concerned that term limits will pass that "Question C" was added solely for the purpose of preventing one council member from being unable to run if term limits pass, by ensuring a partial term does not count towards the term limit.

The current members of the Montgomery County Council have wavered between total indifference on motorist issues to open hostility towards motorists.   It seems like their answer to motorists who want road infrastructure improvements is that you should take the bus.  This county government has consistently prioritized transit projects over road projects.  Some council members have even supported the lowering of speed limits.

This county government has created the largest photo enforcement programs in the state, and one which operates under fewer restrictions than any other program in the state.  Not one member of the current Montgomery County Council has been the least bit responsive to any of the complaints we have raised about their automated traffic enforcement programs.  When concerns about the culture of secrecy surrounding the County's Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit were raised, the county government had nothing to say and let the situation stand unquestioned.  When questions were raised about the creation of secret "Police Citizens Advisory Boards" that were exempt from the Open Meetings Act, the county government had not a word of concern.  When it was reported that the County had illegally issued thousands of citations without legally required calibration logs, elected officials had nothing to say and did nothing to have those tickets refunded.  And the current county government continuously uses YOUR tax dollars to push for more restrictions on your rights at the state level and against any new protections for your rights.

Motorists living in Montgomery County cannot vote out the current county council this year.  But you can show them that their actions and their indifference have consequences by voting FOR QUESTION B and AGAINST QUESTION C.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

College Park Refunds Hundreds of Erroneous Citations


WJLA has reported that the City of College Park issued 685 erroneous speed camera citations which will now need to be refunded.

Motorists had received citations in September from a speed camera located on Baltimore Avenue (rt 1) in College Park for violating the 25mph speed limit.  However the speed camera was in fact located before the 25mph speed limit sign and was actually within the 30mph zone.

College Park initially agreed to refund 5 citations from motorists who had complained about the citations.  However two weeks after being contacted by a reporter from WJLA, the city agreed to refund 685 tickets.

Photos provided to the Maryland Drivers Alliance by one motorist showed the original location of the speed limit sign.
Old speed limit location, located after the camera

The camera was located atop a pole in the 30mph zone before the start of the posted 25mph zone.

After being contacted with complaints form motorists, the speed limit sign was moved the absolute minimum amount in order to place the camera inside the 25mph zone..  This concealed speed camera is now located atop a pole located just a few feet beyond the new 25mph speed limit sign location.
New 25mph speed limit location, located just a few feet before the concealed speed camera

It is not yet known whether the city continued issuing citations immediately after the speed limit boundary was suddenly moved.

The camera had been configured for a 25mph speed limit for approximately one month.  During that period of time, operators would "sign" daily configuration logs stating the device was correctly configured, without ever detecting that the device was configured with the wrong speed limit.

College Park has had issues with erroneous citations in the Past.  Last year we reported that College Park had falsely accused a stationary University of Maryland Shuttle Bus of speeding.  We also reported on numerous examples where College Park had cited the wrong vehicle.  In 2011, a motorist successfully disputed a speed camera citation from College Park, using data from the "car chip" in his vehicle which recorded that his car had not in fact been speeding.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Montgomery County Sees Speed Camera Revenues Increase, Wants More

Montgomery County's speed camera program exceeded revenue projections in 2015, increasing by $2.1 million over 2014 to $18.7 million, according to a report in the Washington Post.  This represents a 12.6% increase at a time when some speed camera programs in the state have seen revenues decline.

Montgomery County's speed camera program has been hailed as a "Model" program by organizations which seek to expand speed cameras nation wide and remove all restrictions to their use.  Montgomery County is the only County in Maryland which uses speed cameras outside school zones.  The county's revenues have been helped by their policy of creating extensive "speed camera corridors" where mobile, sometimes concealed cameras can be placed at any point 24/7, frequently in concealed locations.  The County has also fought in court to maintain the principal that they have no requirement to refund citations after they have been paid, and the county has refused to refund citations issued in cases where cameras were in blatant violation of state requirements for calibration.

To facilitate the expansion of the program, Montgomery County speed camera locations and legislative agenda with respect to automated enforcement are reviewed by a secret "Citizens Advisory Board on Traffic Issues" whose members are exclusively chosen by the Director of the speed camera program.  The meetings of this group are exempt from all the normal rules followed by the many other "Citizens Advisory Boards" within the county, meaning they are closed to the public, to the press, and to critics, and that no minutes from these meetings are kept and made available to the public.  Representatives from the Montgomery County Government have engaged in extensive lobbying to the state legislature at taxpayer expense in order to prevent any new protections for motorist rights and facilitate the further expansion of their program.

The Montgomery County Council is now looking at lowering speed limits as a way to keep revenues rising.  WTOP reports that the county has been seeking to lower the speed limit on River Road for the  specific purpose of deploying speed cameras.  Council Member Roger Berliner has requested that the SHA lower the speed limit on a section of River Road be designated as a new "school zone" and then lower the speed limit in this location by 10mph.  This would allow the location to qualify for the use of speed cameras at the location where the speed limit drops.  The stated reason for lowering speed limits was an accident which involved a vehicle traveling at 115mph, 60mph over the current speed limit.  The SHA is planning to implement a package of traffic engineering safety improvements for the location, which is pending implementation by mid fall.  However the county decided they are not interested in seeing whether these would have any effect.  The SHA noted in their initial rejection of the request to lower speed limits that the location does not fall within the normal definition of a school zone, and that changes to speed limit may not end extremely reckless driving.  There are already speed cameras located on other portions of River road.

Montgomery County has seen other instances where high speed fatalities have occurred immediately between a cluster of three speed cameras all within a quarter mile of the accident, including one case where the drunk teenage drivers immediately before the accident stated (incorrectly) )that "If they went fast enough, the camera couldn’t catch them".  The county's immediate response to that accident was to add a fourth mobile speed camera nearby, rather than investigating traffic engineering improvements.

Thursday, July 14, 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.

Friday, June 10, 2016

State Seeking Public Comments on Transportation Programs

The Maryland Department of Transportation is seeking comment from the public on their statewide transportation improvement program.  We encourage motorists to examine the 2017 Transportation Improvement Plan and express their own priorities to mdotplanning@mdot.state.md.us by July 7th.




Maryland Department of Transportation Seeking Public Comment
on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program 

Program Provides a Look at Federally-Funded State Transportation Projects

June 6, 2016

HANOVER, MD (June 6, 2016) – To ensure all Marylanders have a voice in transportation projects throughout the state, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) is inviting the public to comment on the Draft Fiscal Year 2017 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.  Maryland’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) is a four-year, fiscally constrained, and prioritized set of transportation projects that is compiled from state, local, and regional plans.  The STIP is the formal process of requesting federal funding for the projects in the legislatively approved six-year transportation budget known as the Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP).  These projects were first presented to the public for comment in fall 2015 as part of the CTP tour to Maryland’s 23 counties and to Baltimore City.
“It is vital for people from every corner of the state to have a voice,” said Secretary Pete K. Rahn.  “Through this effort, all Marylanders will have input in developing and delivering a better transportation network across the state.”
The STIP is Maryland’s federally-required program that compiles all of the regional metropolitan Transportation Improvement Programs with State non-metropolitan projects to provide one comprehensive list of local and regional priority projects.  These project lists are developed using the 2035 Maryland Transportation Plan (MTP) as a guide.  The MTP is a 20-year vision for transportation in Maryland that outlines the state's transportation goals, policies and priorities and helps guide statewide investment decisions across all modes of transportation. 
STIP projects are selected through an annual development process.  The Maryland STIP is financially constrained by the revenues reasonably expected to be available through the STIP’s four-year funding period.  Maryland is federally required to update the STIP every four years. However, MDOT develops a new STIP closer to every two years and solicits comments in accordance with federal law.  The STIP was last updated in 2014.  
MDOT’s Draft STIP can be viewed at mdot.maryland.gov/Draft_FY2017_STIP.  The public may comment in writing through July 5 by email to: mdotplanning@mdot.state.md.us or mail to STIP Comments Office of Planning & Capital Programming, Maryland Department of Transportation, 7201 Corporate Center Drive, Hanover, Maryland 21076.  This is the final phase of public comments on the STIP before the Final FY 2017 STIP is submitted to the US Department of Transportation for approval.
Media Contacts:
Erin Henson
Teri Moss
410-865-1025

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Prince George's County Withholds Speed Camera Error Records

The Prince George's County Police are refusing to honor a public records request for information about speed camera events that were rejected or voided by their contractor.

The editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website originally submitted a Maryland Public Information Act request to the Prince George's County police for several items, one of them being "Records showing the number of potential speed monitoring system citations rejected by Optotraffic and the reasons why the citations were rejected, for each month from January 1, 2014 to the present."

After longer than 30 days, the county police provided some heavily redacted documents responsive to other items in the request, but declined to respond to this item, stating that any such records would be in the custody of their contractor and providing no means to access them.  The county furthermore did not provide the normal response letter typically included in a reply to an MPIA which is required to state the reasons for withheld records or portions of records and which is required by law to state the request's options for appeal.

We replied to the county's attorney, Eugene Pickett, stating that we required access to these reords and pointing out, among other things, that the issue of access to contractor records had previously been adjudicated in a case involving the Town of Morningside where the court ruled that speed camera records in the custody of a contractor are subject to the MPIA.  Furthermore we pointed out that "The program administrator for all speed camera programs are required to take a "best practices" training course presented by the state, which specifically discusses records retention including "ALL SMS enforcement documents". "  Additionally, we requested "pursuant to the MPIA please provide the email address of Prince George's County's primary contact with Optotraffic).  In addition, I request that Prince George's County please provide a statement authorizing Optotraffic to release the data described in Item #4 of my MPIA request."  The county attorney refused to respond to our complaint after multiple inquiries, and refused to honor our MPIA request for an email contact at Optotraffic -- an apparent flouting of state law.

After multiple attempts to obtain this data went un-answered, on March 16 we submitted a new request for two categories of records including both the same data on citations rejected by Optotraffic and also citations voided by Optotraffic.   Prince George's County failed to provide a response after more than 30 days, as state law requires.  When we attempted to respond to both the current and former MPIA representative for the county police, we received no reply from the current representative and the prior representative responded only with an angry letter stating that they did not want to be copied on such inquiries.

On April 25th we finally received a "response" letter, which did not reference any of the items in our March 16th MPIA request.  Instead it referenced the four items in our December 4rth request plus a fictitious fifth item, which apparently was the county attorney playing a stupid game by pretending that a number 5 which happened to appear in the portion of a statute cited in the request was another item even though this was clearly not the case.   The items referenced in our March 16th request were not addressed in the response and the records pertaining to citations rejected and voided by Optotraffic were not provided.  The county furthermore refused to provide an email contact for Optotraffic and honor our request to direct Optotraffic to release records, making it impossible for us to obtain any such records from Optotraffic directly.

We inquired about this lack of response to these items and included Major Robert Liberati, who runs the Prince George's County speed camera program.  The county has thus far not replied to that other than for Major Robert Liberati disavowing any responsibility for the matter by stating that all communications should go to the county Attorney Eugene Picket.  Mr Pickett is not the county Police's designated MPIA representative, according to the OAG website, and has not been responding to emails.

The obstructed records are of particular concern because local governments have recently been claiming to the state legislature that the error rate locally operated speed cameras are exceedingly low, and specifically are claiming this is the rate of errors BEFORE the issuance of citations (essentially implying that errors after issuance are almost nonexistent).  Data obtained from another local government revealed that the rate of errors identified by the vendor vastly exceeded the rate of errors identified by police.  If it were in fact the case that Prince George's County Police do not have the requested data, then that would imply Prince George's County has absolutely no clue how many erroneous speed camera citations were being rejected and/or voided by their vendor or for what reason.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Study: Red Light Cameras Increase Traffic Congestion

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland concluded that the use of red light cameras resulted in a "loss of capacity" at intersections which negatively affects traffic flow.

The researchers noted that other studies involving red light cameras have typically failed to investigate the possibility of any negative side effects due to the use of automated enforcement at intersections.  The study by Weldegiorgis, Mishra, and Jha stated:
"Depending on the time the driver arrives at the intersection and other unexpected conditions present at that time s/he can either stop if there is sufficient stopping distance or clear the intersection if there is enough clearing time before the signal turns red.  Thus, the driver’s decision at RLC intersections during the yellow interval can be seen as a binary process in which the two main decisions are either to come to a stop or cross the intersection.
Each of the two decisions have their own consequences, which can impact the traffic operation at the intersection. The stopping decision may result in a rear-end collision and the crossing decision may result in a side collision. Moreover, the travel behavior at non RLC (NRLC) and RLC intersections may not be the same for all drivers. One scenario is that fearing RLR violation ticket, some drivers who are aware of the presence of RLCs may decide to stop during yellow regardless of the availability of safe clearing distance before the onset of the red signal. The cumulative impact of such stopping may result in significant delay in a congested transportation network, especially during rush hours. Such stopping may also impede the smooth progression of traffic along arterial roads during rush hours."
 The study investigated traffic performance at ten locations in Baltimore City and Baltimore County where red light cameras had been used at one intersection but not at another.  The researchers concluded that the use of Red Light Cameras resulted in a reduction of intersection capacity of 90 vehicles per hour.  "Given the continuous monitoring of intersections by red light cameras, the cumulative impact of capacity reduction may be huge," the report stated. "The capacity loss at red light camera intersections can be considered significant given the fact that the number of red light cameras used to monitor for red light running behavior are increasing nationwide."

Additional Information at TheNewspaper.com

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Rockville Falsely Accuses School Bus of Speeding

The City of Rockville voided a speed camera citation issued to a school bus after a request by the Montgomery County Board of Education.

Documents obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance show that citation number RK004432787 issued to a Montgomery County school bus was voided as a speed measurement error.  The City of Rockville speed camera located at 2100 block of Baltimore Road and run by contractor Xerox Corporation, claimed the bus had been traveling 54 MPH in a 25 MPH zone -- more than twice the legally posted speed limit.


However email correspondence reveals that the Board of education made a complaint to Montgomery County Police, who intervened on their behalf with Xerox Corporation and the City of Rockville.  Xerox then confirmed that the Bus's recorded speed was due to an erroneous speed reading, stating:
"As I understand and supported by bus telematics, the bus was not violating and the large surface area of he bus reflected the radar beam onto vehicles moving in the opposite direction, which presented the "shift".  The system measured the shift and calculated a higher speed than the bus was actually traveling.  This is a known possibility and we should have caught it in processing."



Rockville Uses Same Model of Speed Camera As Baltimore's Failed Program
The Maryland Drivers Alliance requested the calibration records for the speed camera which issued this  citation, which revealed that the camera was a Mesa Engineering G1-ATR.  The calibration records for the Rockville camera which erroneous recorded this school bus's speed showed that both the daily and annual calibration tests for this device PASSED.




Calibration Certificate For Rockville Speed Camera

Normally the fact that a device has passed its calibration tests is considered ABSOLUTE PROOF OF GUILT, since the devices are assumed to be accurate.

The Mesa Engineering G1-ATR is the same model of cameras had previously been used by Baltimore City before their program was shut down after revelations about systematic erroneous citations.  An investigation by the Baltimore Sun revealed that Baltimore's program had issued citations to stationary vehicles, and other cases had been documented in Baltimore where trucks were cited for traveling at twice their actual speed.  Xerox was forced to acknowledge that these errors were due to what they described as “Radar Effects”, and an audit of their program revealed as many as ten percent of citations may have been issued in error.   Documents we obtained from Baltimore City in 2013 showed that cameras which issued erroneous citations in Baltimore also passed their annual and daily calibration tests.  For comparison, the calibration certificate below applied to a Baltimore City speed camera which issued a citation to a stationary car.
Comparison: Calibration Cert from a Baltimore City camera which ticketed a stationary vehicle in 2012

The annual calibrations for Rockville's cameras were performed by the same company as the one which approved the calibration certificates we obtained from Baltimore's program: MRA Digital.  Both the City of Rockville and City of Baltimore calibration documents were signed by MRA Digital president Heinz Stubblefeld.  We note that nowhere on these certificates does it claim the device was certified “to accurately measure speed”, nor does it claim the devices were certified to be appropriate for any particular purpose.  In fact there is no evidence on the certificate itself indicating that any form of speed measurement testing was actually performed.

The statement on the certificates that the device was "found to be within the prescribed limits of Type III and Type IV radar devices (ka band) as established by the FCC" sounds impressive, except that the FCC doesn't set standards for radar accuracy.  The FCC only specifies what frequency a device is supposed to operate at, which has nothing to do with whether it is suitable for any particular purpose.  Also the scientific-looking little graphics on the calibration certificates are simply stock images taken from Wikimedia commons which have nothing to do with the testing of the devices.

Nevertheless such calibration documents are considered entirely valid under Maryland law and would be considered absolute proof of the accuracy of a device in Montgomery County District Court since Maryland law does not specify any particular standard to which devices must be tested.  Similar documents signed by Mr Stubblefeld and MRA Digital have been used as evidence thousands of time and are accepted by the court as reliable testimony of the accuracy of equipment without question.

The documents also show that this particular citation allegedly passed inspection by a Rockville City police officer.  Documents show that Corporal Norman Paul "signed" a statement stating that "based on my inspection of the recorded images produced by the speed monitoring system in this case, which images are copied on Citation No RK004432787, the motor vehicle depicted in the recorded was being operated in violation of subtitles 8 of Title 21 of the Transportation Article of Maryland Annotated Code." (ie speeding).
However Corporal Paul was incorrect, as the later examination proved that the speed measurement device was in error.  It is unknown at this time how many other speeding violations Corporal Norman Paul has testified to the accuracy of.

Most local governments currently assert the only purpose of citation images is to confirm that the vehicle was "present and moving", which this school bus was.   The cameras in Baltimore City where systematic errors were documented provided defendants with VIDEOS of violations, making documenting a pattern of errors possible, but Rockville provides no such videos so proving a pattern of errors in the same way would be far more difficult, and requirements that citations provide enough information to verify speed have been strongly opposed by local governments including Rockville and Montgomery County.

Had this citation been disputed in court, the above documents would have been admitted as evidence.  Given that all of the documentation for this particular citation was seemingly in order, a defendant who didn't happen to be operating a vehicle on behalf of a local government would have had ABSOLUTELY NO CHANCE disputing this ticket by claiming the device was in error.  It is highly unlikely that a motorist driving a privately owned car would have been afforded any benefit of the doubt by either Rockville or Montgomery County in such a situation.  Motorists have alleged speed measurement errors in other cases, and had their cases rejected by so called "ombudsmen" without the detailed analysis performed in this instance.  Rockville nevertheless dismissed this citation issued to a local government operated vehicle upon request of the Montgomery County Board of Education.


WE WILL HAVE MORE ON THIS STORY VERY SOON

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Montgomery County's So Called “Ombudsman” Refuses To Respond To Questions

The so called “Ombudsman” for Montgomery County's speed camera has been deliberately refusing to respond to “questions and concerns” as  is his specifically prescribed duty and obligation under state law.

The editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website submitted questions and concerns to Montgomery County's “local designee” (aka “Ombudsman”) citing Maryland Transportation Article 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4) which states "On receipt of a written question or concern from a person, the local designee shall provide a written answer or response to the person within a reasonable time."

However as of nine months later, answers to the questions submitted to the local designee have yet to be received.  After prompting, only an UNSIGNED one sentence response acknowledging receipt of the email was received “I have received your request and will begin working on a response.“  However despite several further attempts to contact the "so called ombudsman” about this and the local designee's explicit statement that a response was to be provided Montgomery County has yet to respond to the questions and concerns expressed in the email nine months later.

Among the questions Montgomery County's "so called ombudsman" refused to respond to were questions pertaining to "processing errors" which Montgomery County's "so called ombudsman" had failed to identify when contacted by a ticket recipient:
1.4 What is the basis for concluding that your administrative review procedures are adequate to uncover errors of all types, given that the investigation by the "Local Designee" into the particular citation referenced in the attachment  "ProcessingError.pdf" was not even sufficient to notice that the citation had already been voided, or to identify that a "processing error" had taken place?   How do you know that there are not other types of errors which your procedures are inadequate to identify?
2) In at least one of the complaints provided in your MPIA response, you respond that "there is nothing in the photograph that caused radar effects or any interference with the Speed Monitoring System".  The image on the printout is not complete, but it does appear to be DARK, thus all surroundings would not be visible.  Please describe how you are able to exclude the possibility of "radar effects" being present in a nightime image where objects in the background are not clearly visible?
3) The file "Gatsolog.jpg" is one of the daily setup logs provided in the disclosure.  All steps on the log are initialed.  There were several other logs in the disclosure similar to this one and in each of those cases you deemed them to be valid.  In the log referenced in the attached "Gatsolog.jpg" [w]hat is the "Description of Task" shown on the log for step number 7 which was signed for and which you apparently examined and found to be valid?
4) On April 6, 2015, you received a request where a Motorist stated "If it is in the government's decision to move forward in this matter, I would request copies of any evidence the prosecution may have of my involvement in the "offense", as well as all maintenance records for the camera(s) involved."    I wish to make a complaint that Montgomery County's local designee apparently improperly denied a request for records by a "person in interest", stating "Because the automated speed citation is not a criminal matter, the Automated Traffic Enforcement Unit is under no obligation to provide you with discovery of "records.

Question #3 referenced a log where an operator apparently "signed" that a completely BLANK step #7 was performed.  These erroneous logs were submitted as evidence in court by Montgomery County FOR YEARS, with "operators" signing these defective logs day after day.  The "Local Designee" claimed to have examined such erroneous logs on Multiple occasions and responded to ticket recipients that the logs looked valid to him.

Question #4 pertained to an instance where a motorist had requested copies of the evidence that would be presented against him in court.  The "So Called Ombudsman" for Montgomery County's speed camera program -- who at that time was Deputy Director of Traffic Lieutenant David McBaine -- had responded to this motorist that he was under no obligation to provide that information.

On Friday February 12, 2016, we submitted additional “questions and concerns” specifically citing Maryland Transportation Article 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4).  The questions pertained to the Citizens Advisory Board for Transportation Issues – a secret board organized by the head of Montgomery County's speed camera program which does not conform to the Maryland Open Meetings Act and follows none of the practices which are followed by other Citizens Advisory Boards.  Additionally, we asked several questions regarding Montgomery County's previous failure to perform “daily setup tests” on weekends and failure to refund citations after this was revealed.  The “Ombudsman” refused to respond to any of those questions, and furthermore refused to acknowledge that he would investigate the matter.  Instead, after prompting specifically citing the wording of the Local Designee's duties under 21-809(b)(1)(IX)(4).  The "so called Ombudsman" again merely responded with an UNSIGNED email stating “I received your request and am currently working on it.  Local Designee is one of many responsibilities I have with the Department.”  However again, no response was forthcoming no response to any of our questions and concerns were received more than a month after our questions were submitted.

Furthermore, the Local Designee refused to respond to a request to identify himself or provide an answer as to when a response could be anticipated.  We noted that by refusing to sign his email, the recipients have no way of knowing whether the person responding was even the local designee at all, and that the county could thus disavow responsibility for any responses given.

On our last confirmed communication with the Local Designee, the individual with that role was David McBaine... Deputy Director of Traffic and second in command to Captain Didone.  Thus, his “other duties”, includes management responsibilities over the county's speed camera program.  Accord to the Local Deignee's own statements, these duties prevent him from providing timely answers to questions as required by law, or even untimely answers nine months later.

The "Ombudsman" also refused to respond to a question as to whether he has ever been advised not to answer questions from the Maryland Drivers Alliance.

We have noted previously that Montgomery County's “ombudsman” is actually nothing of the sort.  As second in command to Captain Didone, Lieutenant McBaine is in no way shape or form capable of acting as an independent or objective arbitrator.  In fact Montgomery County has disavowed the term "Ombudsman" several times in writing, making clear that they do not use this term to describe the role.  The former "Ombudsman" (Speed Camera program manager Richard Harrison") stated in writing "As I have stated above I am the Local Designee, not an ombudsman."  and on another instance "Ombusman is not a term that is used in the Speed Camera Reform Act of 2014.  We use the term local designee."  This put in no uncertain terms that there is no such thing as an "ombudsman" in Montgomery County.  

Other local governments running speed camera programs have similarly selected individuals with managerial responsibilities within speed camera programs which would prevent them from being independent arbitrators, let alone advocates for the accused.  

The Montgomery County Local Designee's failure to respond to questions or to investigate a systematic failure to perform calibration checks further proves that there is no such thing as an "Ombudsman" in Montgomery County.  Yet organizations such as the Maryland Association of Counties (MaCo) -- an organization which promotes speed cameras on behalf of local government's at taxpayer expense -- continue to claim that this role was created by recent legislation and ensures that speed camera programs are somehow now fair and that no further oversight of speed camera programs is required.  Thus MaCo continues to deliberately mislead the public about the nature of the "Local Designee", asserting that he is an impartial arbitrator and investigator of complaints when in fact he is merely a public relations spokesperson for the local government's "official position", whose real purpose is to sweep irrefutable cases of speed camera errors under the rug before the media finds out about them.

Individuals who wish to file a "question or concern" about Montgomery County's speed camera program can submit them to Local.Designee@montgomerycountymd.gov, but may get a big middle finger as a response if the answers to those questions do not fit the Montgomery County Government's narrative about speed cameras.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Thousands Sign Petition to End Speed Cameras

The Maryland Campaign for Liberty has reported that thousands have signed a petition to repeal speed cameras, created to support House Bill 436 and Senate Bill 468.  The petition was presented to state lawmakers in hearings in both the house and the senate.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance provided testimony in support of the legislation, in which we cited  the numerous arguments against speed cameras as well as the systematic problems which have occurred in Baltimore City and elsewhere in the state.  Audits of Baltimore's program found that there were error rates as high as ten percent before they were forced to shut the program down.  We also cited the fact that speed camera errors continue to occur in the state.

Among the recent issues the Maryland Drivers Alliance has cited include the "culture of secrecy" promoted by the Montgomery County Government, which included the creation of a secret "citizens advisory board on traffic issues" which is entirely closed to the public and the press, and which operates in a loophole that threatens the intent of the entire Maryland Open Meetings Act.  We also noted that Montgomery County failed to refund citations which were wrongly issued during periods when they did not perform and log required calibration checks on their equipment.  The so called "Ombudsman" for Montgomery County's program has so far refused to even respond to our questions about these issues, despite having a statutory obligation to respond to questions and concerns within a reasonable period of time.  Some of our questions sent to the "ombudsman" have gone unanswered since June of 2015.  We also noted that Montgomery County's program went out of its way to defend their ability to find people who were not actually driving guilty of an offense unless they provide "hearsay" testimony against another person, despite a circuit court ruling that this is not required by law.   Montgomery County's program is often described as a "model" program by supporters of speed cameras, while opponents of speed cameras assert that this is the problem.

Meanwhile, a bill which would have raised speed camera fines and lowered the threshold for issuing speed camera citations in Baltimore County was withdrawn by the sponsors after it received a highly negative response from the public.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Montgomery County councilmember Navarro's husband caught over the stop line by Takoma Park police officer

District Court records reveal that Takoma Park police officer Jon Goldin issued a citation to Silver Spring resident Reginald Laurent for failure to stop at a stop sign line.   Mr. Laurent is the husband of Montgomery County council member Nancy Navarro.

It's important to note that Mr. Laurent was not charged with failure to stop at a stop sign.  Based on the charges, it appears Mr. Laurent did come to a full stop, but the wheels of his car might have gone over the line.

The District Court judge, in an act of leniency,  issued a verdict of "probation before judgement", with a $90 suspended fine and $25.50 court costs.   The case was heard on December 15, 2015.  

We don't have any other details about the case, but given the nature of the crime, we are wondering if perhaps Takoma Park police have a bit too much time on their hands.  



Baltimore County State Lawmakers Propose Bill to Increase Speed Camera Revenues

Legislation has been submitted by state lawmakers from Baltimore County which would increase speed camera fines by 25%, increase the hours of operation they can be used, and lower the speed threshold at which tickets are issued by 4 mph.  These changes would, if implemented, have the potential to transform Baltimore County's program into one of the most profitable in the state overnight.

**** UPDATE 2/26/2016: This legislation has been WITHDRAWN by the sponsors after receiving a highly unfavorable public response ****

The summary of the bill, House Bill 1035, states the purpose as: "Altering the restriction on the days and times during which a speed monitoring system in a school zone may operate in Baltimore County; decreasing from 12 miles per hour to 8 miles per hour the minimum number of miles per hour above a posted speed limit that a motor vehicle must be traveling in Baltimore County for the motor vehicle to be recorded by a speed monitoring system; increasing the maximum civil penalty for a violation recorded by a speed monitoring system in Baltimore County; etc."

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

The bill has also been submitted in the Senate as Senate Bill 468.  A hearing has been scheduled in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for 2/23/2016.

Senate Judicial Proceedings Members:
Sen Robert Zirkin (chair): bobby.zirkin@senate.state.md.us
Sen Lisa Gladded (vice chair): lisa.gladden@senate.state.md.us
Sen James Brochin: jim.brochin@senate.state.md.us
Sen Robert Cassilly: bob.cassilly@senate.state.md.us
Sen Michael Hough: michael.hough@senate.state.md.us
Sen Susan Lee: susan.lee@senate.state.md.us
Sen Wayne Norman: wayne.norman@senate.state.md.us
Sen Victor Ramirez: victor.ramirez@senate.state.md.us
Sen Jamie Raskin: jamie.raskin@senate.state.md.us
Sen Justin Ready: justin.ready@senate.state.md.us

CLICK TO SEND AN EMAIL TO THE SENATE JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS 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
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