Saturday, July 31, 2010

Montgomery County Traffic Fatalities Double as Cameras Increase

(Updated 10/26/2010)
Montgomery County reported its 27th traffic fatality of 2010 on in June. Tragically this is more than double the 13 traffic deaths the county experienced in the same period of January 1,2009 through June 28, 2009. (Information from the Gazette )

In June 2009 Montgomery County touted a drop in traffic fatalities for the first few months of the year, claiming the county's speed camera program was largely responsible, and the head of the program Captain Damskey crediting the cameras with having a "long-lasting, profound effect on our roadways". The county downplayed certain facts however, including the fact that traffic fatalities had increased in the county from 2007 to 2008, and that there had been an unusually large nationwide decline in traffic fatalities occurring both from 2007 to 2008 and 2008 to 2009. In March 2010 the NHTSA released data showing that there had been a nationwide reduction in traffic fatalities of 8.9% from 2008 to 2009, following a similar drop the prior year, with an overall 22% reduction in nationwide fatalities from 2005 to 2009.

A preliminary report on traffic fatalities by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that national traffic fatalities dropped 9.2% in the first half of 2010.  Montgomery County's results of increasing accidents are therefore an exception to a nationwide trend for decreasing accidents during this six month period. The NHTSA did not credit the use of automated traffic enforcement for the nationwide trend, as speed cameras are still only used in a small minority of states.
The county office of legislative oversight released a report which trumpeted a reduction in accidents, while downplaying other data indicating an increase in accidents near camera sites: "In the four years before camera activation, the County experienced an average of 15 collisions per year involving pedestrians or bicyclists within one half mile of future MCPD speed camera sites. During the year following activation of speed cameras, 22 collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists occurred in the same areas." and "In the four years prior to camera activation, the County experienced an average of two fatal collisions per year in the vicinity of future MCPD speed camera sites. Three collisions resulting in a fatality occurred in the year after camera activation."

According to data released by the county, there were a total of 212 camera sites of all types (80 fixed and 132 mobile sites) managed by Montgomery County, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Chevy Chase Village, and Takoma Park as of July 2009. 41 or 19.34% of camera sites were listed as 'school zone' cameras, with the remaining 171 (80.66%) camera sites listed as 'residential', with the primary difference being that residential cameras may issue tickets 24/7. The county and its municipalities have continued approving additional camera sites over the last year, including the county council authorizing the county executive to add an unrestricted number of new camera sites in March 2010 and the City of Rockville deploying a new fleet of mobile cameras.