Sunday, March 7, 2010

Maryland Lawmakers Want School Buses to Issue Photo Tickets

Several state lawmakers from Frederick County want to turn all the school buses in the state into roving camera ticket vans.

The legislation (Senate Bill 1001 and House Bill 1376) is sponsored by six members of the Frederick County delegation to the general Assembly (Senator Brinkley (R), Delegates Stull (R), G. Clagett(D), Elliott(R), Hecht(D), and Jenkins(R)).

Under current Maryland law, it is illegal to pass a bus from either direction while the bus is stopped with flashers on, or to stop closer than 20 feet from a bus parked with its flashers on, with the exception of passing on a divided roadway from the opposite direction. This legislation would permit those violations to be enforced by cameras affixed to the many thousands of school buses in the state.

The features of legislation include the following:
  • Permits evidence to be admitted "without authentication"
  • Citations are the responsibility of the vehicle owner even if they were not driving
  • Does not state that the camera operator (or bus driver) needs to appear at court hearings, and does not state that the accused has the right to request the operator appear
  • Explicitly lowers the burden of proof for the state to the lowest level possible
  • Does not bar the camera vendor or the bus driver (who provide the evidence for court cases) from receiving a portion of ticket fees
  • Does not contain any "public notification" requirement (such as the use of signs) to inform people in the area that they are subject to being photographed
  • Does not explicitly state that the camera images need to prove a violation took place (for example, that the flashers were in fact on and that vehicle was not already passing before the lights went on), only that they need to show the vehicle's license plate number.
None of the above would be allowable in the US system under the US legal system for "criminal" violations, such as with career criminals and violent offenders. However because we are instead talking about a far worse class of citizens (drivers), lawmakers attempt to get around this by lowering the offense to a "civil" violation (as with other types of photo enforcement) and interpret this to mean that the rights of the citizen can be freely ignored in order to allow for cost effective assembly-line justice.

The fines would be set at $100. One of the sponsors of the bill (Senator Brinkley) stated that he thought fines should be raised to $500 while still having owner responsibility and a reduced burden of proof.

We wrote to two sponsors of the bill (Senator Brinkley and Delegate G. Claggett) and asked for more information about the legislation, including whether there was any data showing that these cameras would reduce accidents. When they did not respond after 1 week we did our own research. According to a National Highway Safety Traffic Administration report : "American students are nearly eight times safer riding in a school bus than with their own parents and guardians in cars. The fatality rate for school buses is only 0.2 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) compared to 1.5 fatalities per 100 million VMT for cars." We discovered another report which stated that in the entire US, every year out of the 25million students who take school buses there are an average of 15 "pedestrian fatalities at school bus stops". This figure is extremely tragic, but it apparently includes fatalities from students being hit by buses rather than cars and other accidents which were not the result of passing incidents, and it is less than 2% of traffic fatalities involving school children.

We could not find any government studies to determine whether or not our children will ever want or need the legal rights Americans used to have before the advent of photo enforcement.

The bills will have a hearing in the House Environmental Matters Committee on March 9 and in the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee on March 25.