Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Speed Camera Legislation Slowly Advances

Several speed camera bills have cleared a hurdle in legislative committees. HB396 (to allow them in Baltimore), HB1023 (Prince George's County), HB1314 (Howard County) were all voted "Favorable with amendments" in the House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee, clearing the way for a floor vote.

Bill 1023 may be the most disturbing of the three, since it includes authorization on "Primary Highways". Some Prince George's County towns have demonstrated their intention to charge a "commuter tax" by taking it on themselves to use red light cameras to ticket motorists who come to a full stop at intersections.

The Howard County Delegation rejected an amendment which would have made HB1314 the revenue neutral before submitting it. HB1314 was sponsored by a 6-3 vote in the Howard County Delegation, with all democrats voting in favor and all republicans against.

ALL of these bills affect anyone who sometimes visits these locations and are a concern to those who care about the integrity of our justice system and individual liberty.

In the senate, SB277 (statewide authorization) was voted "Favorable with Amendments" by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Two amendments were added first.

If you haven't already done so, WRITE TO YOUR STATE LEGISLATOR NOW. You can find links to their contact information, and how they voted on speed camera bills in 2008, on our Legislative ScoreCard-- where we will be uploading the names of those who vote for this year's legislation. There is a sample letter on our action page, but all your representatives really need to know is that if they support the expansion of speed cameras they will lose your vote.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Speed Cameras Coming Online in Montgomery County

The City of Takoma Park has fully activated its new speed cameras on New Hampshire and Ethan Allen Avenues. These cameras will be operated by ACS State And Local Solutions under a per-ticket fee arrangement signed off in September 2008, and arrangement which included wording designed to ensure the city would turn a profit. Takoma Park Police Chief Ronald Ricucci expressed his view that the cameras were not about revenue when recently quoted by the Gazette "If it'd been for revenue, it would've been up four years ago," (note: the state legislature did not authorize speed cameras until 2006). Ricucci had previously been quoted in the Takoma Voice as saying “I didn’t think we had a speed problem or needed cameras but Mayor [Kathy] Porter asked me to look into it”. Surprisingly, after they looked into it, they arrived at the answer which the mayor wanted. (Note : Mayor Porter was succeeded by Mayor Bruce Williams who was the only candidate on the ballot in 2007).

Takoma Park is possibly hoping to get the same financial benefit from its cameras on New Hampshire Avenue as Chevy Chase Village saw with its cameras on Connecticut Avenue. Like Connecticut Avenue, New Hampshire Ave is a 6-lane roadway which runs between I-495 and DC. Like Connecticut Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue is a State Highway which is paid for with money from ALL Maryland taxpayers, yet the decision to install these cameras and the revenue they create will go exclusively to this local government over a locality of 17,300 people.

At the county level, County Executive Ike Leggett’s proposed FY10 budget included increasing the number of speed cameras in county from 36 to 66 (60 fixed, 6 mobile) as part of his, and required the cameras to produce $15.7million in revenue. Based on the county receiving a $23.75 share after paying its contractor, that would require at least 661,000 fully paid citations. The revenue being produced by each existing camera location dropped in the second half of 2008, in some cases by 40% as drivers learned more about them. Should the cameras fail to generate this large number of citations naturally, they may need to install more cameras or use more aggressive tactics to meet that revenue goal.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Judge Throws Out New Carrollton Scamera Tickets

A Prince George’s County District Court has thrown out several red light tickets issued under New Carrollton’s Red Light Camera Scam after deciding that the city did not have evidence that the accused drivers had run a red light. The drivers challenged the citations after seeing that they had received a ticket stating that they had “run a red light”, while showing that they in fact were not moving. The citations said nothing about “crossing a white line” or “entering a crosswalk”.

New Carrollton Mayor Pro-Tem James Wildoner defended the practice in an interview with Fox 5 News, and said anyone who got a ticket for crossing the white line should “just pay the ticket”. Wilborner pointed out that, under transportation article 21-202, drivers are supposed to stop before the white line. HOWEVER transportation article 21-202.1 is in fact the section of maryland transporation code which permits the use of red light cameras, and it includes the following
(5) "Traffic control signal monitoring system" means a device with one or more motor vehicle sensors working in conjunction with a traffic control signal to produce recorded images of motor vehicles entering an intersection against a red signal indication.
The transportation article also states that the court is considering evidence that a vehicle "passed through the intersection". Article 21-202 also distinguishes between the intersection itself and the white line or the crosswalks. Courts accept red light camera tickets only because article 21-202.1 lowers the burden of proof on that specific offense and states that for that specific offense they are admissible without witnesses capable of exercising human judgment. Moreover neither Maryland Transportation Article 21-202 nor 21-202.1 specify any penalty entering a crosswalk of stopping past the white line.

Despite the fact that the court did not agree with his interpretation of the law, and despite the fact that they are forcing drivers to choose between getting into rear end collision or side impact collision if they want to avoid getting a ticket, the Mayor Pro-Tem Wildoner assures that the city’s practice will continue. This is no doubt in hopes that most drivers will not take the time to challenge them.

AAA has stated that they plan to file an injunction to stop the the cameras, according to the interview with Fox 5 News. In an interview with the Gazette, AAA Spokesman John Townson cited the fact that Federal Highway Safety Administration's Red Light Camera Systems Operational Guidelines specify that "the second photograph in a two-photograph red light camera system should be taken after a vehicle has entered an intersection" and said it is "malfeasance" on the part of New Carrollton's police department to run the program. A total of 15 red light citations were thrown out in one March 18th district court hearing.

These red light cameras were also vigorously defended by New Carrollton's Police Chief David Rice, who is currently under investigation by state police and the FBI over unrelated charges.

New Carrollton first proposed installing red light cameras on these roadways in February of 2000, when one city council member was quoted by the Gazette as saying "I say we move forward and investigate it to the fullest. It's a sure, good revenue source."

New Carrollton's red light cameras are currently operated by OptoTraffic, a subsidiary of Sigma Space Corporation [ref]. Sigma space retained the lobbying firm "Rifkin, Livingston, Levitan & Silver, LLC" to advocate in favor of "speed monitoring and red light system" legislation in Annapolis in 2007 and 2008, according to online ethics disclosure forms.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Maryland Speed Camera Fib#2: They’re Needed for Safety

The Montgomery County Government and other speed cameras supporters continuously claim that automated traffic enforcement is necessary to improve safety. Certainly we all want safe roads, but does that necessarily mean that simply because a thing is claimed to improve safety that all other arguments need to be ignored or that other options for improving safety should not be used instead?

Montgomery County has claimed significant reductions in speeding after speed cameras are installed. And you know what, we readily concede that most people DO speed down when they see a speed camera. But what they choose to omit it that you can get even BETTER speed reductions using other traffic calming devices.

As an example, the city of Gaithersburg Maryland installed "traffic calming measures" other than speed cameras on the following roads and reported excellent reductions in speeding[page 22]:
Location___________| Before__ | _After__ | Speed Decrease
Little Quarry Road | 34-36MPH | 24-27MPH
| 9.5MPH/~27%
Suffield Drive____ | 34-36MPH
| 24-26MPH | 10MPH/28%
Chestnut Street___ | 34-36MPH
| 27 MPH__ | 8MPH/22%
Walker Avenue_____ | 37-38MPH
| 28-30MPH | 8.5MPG/22%
Brookes Avenue____ | 35-38MPH
| 30-31MPH | 6MPH/16%
Main Street_______ | 35-38MPH | 28-32MPH | 6MPH/16%
click to view report data
By comparison, the city of Rockville has claimed that after installing speed cameras on Wooton parkway, "The average speed at the fixed pole site on Baltimore Road during the period of August 2007 to April 2008 decreased from 27.99 miles per hour (mph) to 23.64 mph, which is a reduction of 4.35 mph. The average speed at our fixed pole location on Wootton Parkway during the period of August 2007 to April 2008 was reduced from 26.20 mph to 22.83 mph, which is reduction of 3.37 miles per hour." So even the smallest speed reduction which Gaithersburg saw from it's non-orwellian traffic calming measures was better than the benefit received from Rockville's Wooton speed camera. Even if we consider speed reduction an end in and of itself, speed cameras are not the most effective solution.

Such improvements do not need to be expensive. As an example, a solar powered radar speed display sign can be purchased for less than $3500. Such devices have been proven in studies to reduce the average speed in highway work zones by 7mph, without the need for the highway work zone speed cameras in the proposed Maryland legislation, and by 9mph in school zones. There are both federal and private programs to help fund and defer the costs of such devices. They do not require installation of power sources since they are solar and could be affixed to existing poles, meaning the installation costs can be low... that is unless their use is encumbered by a meddlesome leviathan bureaucracy which is incapable of doing anything inexpensive. In fact, if the $142,000 per month which Chevy Chase Village alone is paying in speed camera operating fees to Texas based ACS State and Local Solutions had instead been spent on this purpose, 40 new speed indicator signs could have been added each month, with enough for 2 to be placed in front of EVERY public school in Montgomery County withing a year. This would have realized speed reductions in numerous important areas without any of the due process issues, privacy violations, or scams associated with speed cameras.

The real reason why speed cameras were chosen instead is obvious: as part of his recently submitted budget proposal, the Montgomery County Executive plans to DOUBLE the number of fixed pole speed cameras from 30 to 60, and set a specific revenue quota of $15.7million for the program in order to avoid having to make budget cuts. If the programs fails to meet that revenue goal "naturally", then in order to prevent a budget shortfall they will either need to "reward" drivers by adding more cameras, or bend the rules to maximize tickets issued to unwitting and basically safe drivers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Maryland Red Light Cameras Caught Issuing Bogus Tickets

Fox 5 News has reported that red light cameras in New Carrolton, MD have been issuing large numbers of bogus tickets to cars which in fact stopped for the red light. The cameras were apparently issuing tickets to anyone who crossed the white line at the intersection, even if they came to a complete stop. A senior representative of AAA Mid Atlantic received one of the citations after he stopped at the intersection.

One driver interviewed by Fox news after being "flashed" while stopped at the intersection indicated "If I got it I wouldn't fight it no. If the camera is set to do it that way I just have to pay the ticket." In fact many drivers with less means than media clout than a senior representative of an organization like AAA might not make a challenge, given that Maryland law permits jurisdictions to threaten to raise the fine for citations from $75 to $100 and tack on court costs to anyone who takes their red light camera ticket to court.

The FAQ on the New Carrolton Police website makes it clear that automatically issuing tickets to large numbers of cars which in fact did stop for the light was deliberate:
"Q: I received a Red Light Camera ticket in the mail, but I am sure I stopped for the light. Why did I receive this?
A: In addition to vehicles which proceed through the intersection while the light is in the red phase, red light camera violations are also triggered by vehicles which pass the clearly marked "stop line" or enter the pedestrian crosswalk. "

Transportation Article 21-202.1, the section of the Maryland code which authorizes the use of red light cameras defines a“Traffic control signal monitoring system” as "a device with one or more motor vehicle sensors working in conjunction with a traffic control signal to produce recorded images of motor vehicles entering an intersection against a red signal indication." and does not authorize their use against cars which stop before the intersection.

Forcing cars to stop too quickly might put drivers in the position of either being rear-ended or having to actually run the red light.

"Numerous" complaints have been received not just from New Carrolton but also Bladensburg and Riverdale, all in Prince George's County, MD. Prince George's County is currently requesting authorization from the Maryland legislature to permit the use of speed cameras, including one bill that would allow them on "primary highways".

Remember that the choice to use photo enforcement to defraud passing motorists is a political decision, made by elected officials in PG County and New Carrollton. Please give them an earful. Using cameras for this purpose is clearly neither fair nor is it in the interest of safety.
New Carrollton Mayor Andres Hanko : 301-577-0256, ahanko@new-carrollton.md.us
New Carrollton City Council members:
Duane H. Rosenberg : 301-441-3324, drosenberg@new-carrollton.md.us
James A. Wildoner 301-577-0992, jwildoner@new-carrollton.md.us
David L. Anderson 301-459-6100, danderson@new-carrollton.md.us
Katrina R. Dodro 301-513-9239, kdodro@new-carrollton.md.us
Liza Fenton 301-459-6100, lfenton@new-carrollton.md.us
Prince George's County Executive: 301-952-4131
Prince George's County Council: 301-952-3700
Council member emails: TEDernoga@co.pg.md.us, WACampos@co.pg.md.us,
EOlson@co.pg.md.us, IMTurner@co.pg.md.us, councildistrict5@co.pg.md.us, SHDean@co.pg.md.us, CAExum@co.pg.md.us, TKnotts@co.pg.md.us, mmbland@co.pg.md.us

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Please CONTACT US if you have received one of these fraudulent red light camera tickets. We believe that it may be possible to use legal action to end this dangerous, unethical, and illegal practice which these town are engaging in.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Judge Allows Speed Camera Class Action Lawsuit

A Montgomery Count Circuit Court judge has allowed a class action lawsuit filed against Montgomery County, Chevy Chase Village, and Gaithersburg on behalf of the recipients of hundreds of thousands of tickets issued by speed cameras in those locations. A Maryland Attorney, Timothy Leahy, filed the lawsuit in May 2008 after receiving a speed camera citation and learning about the county's per-ticket contract with ACS State and Local Solutions which violates a prohibition in state law against such arrangements. Attorney William Askinazi, who is representing Mr Leahy and the other plaintiffs in this case, is a former Maryland Assistant Secretary of State for the Department of Business and Economic Development, and was a candidate for Maryland State Senate in 2006.

If successful, the lawsuit could force some or all of the tickets issued under the illegal contract to be refunded. More importantly, it would set a precedent that will decide whether or not local governments can freely violate the law in order to maximize ticket revenue. This lawsuit was considered significant enough that it was mentioned in the "fiscal impact statement" for the 2009 bills which are being discussed by the Maryland legislature to authorize speed cameras on almost every road in the state, stating that "Current law prohibits a contractor's fee from being contingent on the number of citations issued".

The county has been gradually renegotiating their contract since this illegal arrangement was exposed in March 2008 -- because of pressure from this lawsuit and public pressure from angry citizens and drivers' groups. However Montgomery County still allowed many new cameras to be installed under the old contract arrangement, including some in Takoma Park which joined the existing per-ticket contract over 4 months after the County Executive publicly stated his intention to renegotiate the contract, under terms which included an apparent ticket quota for the contractor. Chevy Chase Village recently announced that starting March 12, 2009 it will instead pay a $148000/month flat fee for its four cameras, under condition that the cameras be upgraded to newer technology which can issue more tickets, and the payment amount will still be adjusted periodically if ticket volumes change.

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Addendum: despite making multiple specific promises to renegotiated their contract to no longer use a per-ticket bounty ( in May 2008, August 2008, and in a 2008 letter to AAA Mid Atlantic ), Montgomery County instead quietly renewed their per-ticket contract in early 2009 for another 2 years. The editors of this website believe the county has done this simply to make more money.