Friday, October 29, 2010

Speed Camera Tickets Can Hold Up Home Purchase

Some would have you believe that if you pay a speed camera ticket you are only out $40.  But in some cases they can have other impacts.  Here's a story in the College Park Path about a couple whose mortgage application for a new home was held up for a Montgomery County speed camera ticket... one which they had already paid. 

"We stayed at our lender's office filling out forms so late one night that the air conditioning turned off – in August. But we still received a phone call shortly thereafter notifying us that there was one small blemish on one of our credit reports that we would need to clear up before we signed our mortgage.

At first, I had trouble tracking down the overdue bill, because I mistook the name of the company for my student loan provider. Several phone calls later I found out that it was for a traffic camera ticket.

I had a guilty moment when I thought back to a day about a year before, when I was sure I had gotten a speed camera ticket, but thought I had successfully stuck my head in the sand because I had failed to change my mailing address and never received a ticket. 

I thought it would be an easy problem to fix, but the day before we were to go to settlement we were still trying to figure out how to resolve the ticket. We feared that after all the hurdles we had cleared, it would end up being a speeding ticket that would stand in the way of us getting our house. 

Finally, I found out it was actually a ticket my boyfriend had received in Montgomery County, and discovered it was a ticket he had already paid.

Fortunately they were eventually able to locate the receipt for the citation and convince their lender that they had paid.  "But you can imagine my chagrin the next morning, after our first night in the house, when I picked up the paper and read that speeding cameras would soon be coming to College Park too. "

College Park started using speed cameras on October 15th.  So UMD students beware, years from now that fully paid $40 ticket might come back to haunt you.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

November Elections will Determine Future of Cameras in Maryland

For the past two years has been documenting the expansion of speed cameras in Maryland.  Last year a bill sponsored championed by Governor O'Malley authorized the use of speed cameras in school zones and freeway work zones anywhere in the state.  We argued that this new power would be abused, that it would diminish the legal rights of drivers, subject drivers to mass surveillance, and that it would be viewed as a cash cow by local governments and a way of taxing out of town drivers.  We argued that while in fact these machines are fallible, that cameras would still always be presumed correct and the driver always presumed guilty.  Now, a year after that new law went into effect, the truth has been exposed:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Another Town Quietly Goes to the Dark Side

Just when we thought there was already no place left in Prince George's County which hadn't approved speed cameras yet... the town of Landover Hills has just awarded a contract for speed cameras to Brekford Corp

The town with a population of about 1500 borders route 450 and will almost certainly seek to deploy speed cameras on that road.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Riverdale Park Speed Cameras Producing Errors

An October 1 story on the Riverdale Park Patch website, interviewing the police chief Teresa Chambers about the town's speed camera program, contained the following statement:

"Chambers said residents have occasionally received citations that were incorrectly issued to them. If this happens to you, please send an email to about the error."

We'll just take the police chief's word for it that Riverdale Park has been issuing speed camera citations in error.  If the police chief's response to your complain is not satisfactory, you can always contact us.

UPDATE: Read about charges of FORGERY AND FRAUD by Riverdale Park's Speed Camera Program.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Morningside Council Member Accused of Fixing Camera Tickets

According to a TBD news report, a council woman in the town of Morningside, (Prince George's County Maryland), is being accused of deleting red light camera tickets issued to herself and her husband who also sits on the council.  Councilwoman Foster had also worked as a police clerk in the town's photo enforcement unit but was suspended from that position pending and investigation by state police.  The town's red light camera program generates about $150,000 per year, according to the story. See the complete report here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Annapolis, Salisbury Considering Speed Camera Programs

More Maryland cities are considering starting speed camera programs.  Salisbury is looking to deploy cameras "within a 1/2 mile radius of schools" according to an article in Delmarva Now. This area would encompass most of Salisbury including portions the major roads such as US 15 and US 50.  The nearby town of Fruitland is already using cameras provided by Redspeed Inc, which was documented maximizing their profits simply by placing a camera outside the posted school zone.

Annapolis hopes to collect up to $4.5 million by placing speed cameras on Forest Drive, according to a story in Hometown Annapolis.  Redspeed is selling the plan to the state in hopes of collecting a 37.5% cut of each ticket and conducted a traffic survey free of charge to determine the most profitable locations.  The proposal will be discussed at a Monday October 25th council session (see council meetings schedule).

Illinoise based Redspeed USA started its fortunes by helping to create that state's red light camera law. They have recently been pedaling there wares in Thurmont and Princess Anne as well.

Both Annapolis and Salisbury must first pass local legislation and approve a contract to deploy cameras, as well as get SHA permission to use the cameras on state highways.
Salisbury City Council
Annapolis City Council

Monday, October 18, 2010

DC Red Light Camera Goes Haywire

A DC neighborhood blog reported on an "overly sensitive red light camera" in DC at the intersection of 1rst street and Rhode Island Avenue.  "I have received a complaint that the red-light camera at 1st & Rhode Island NW has gone off even when people are just making the legal right turn on red as they are traveling west on Rhode Island Avenue NW. " wrote Commissioner John Salatti.

Several citizens responded to Salatti in the comments:
"I recieved a ticket in the mail last month for making a right from Rhode Island onto First St. I wrote to DMV in my defense denying the violation and included photos of the corner which does not display a "No Turn on Red" sign. It's only been approx. 2 weeks but I have yet to hear back from Adjudication. In speaking to other neighbors I know of one more person who received a ticket." complained one resident.

"i got a $150 ticket for turning right onto 1st!"  said another comment.

"I think it automatically goes off every time the light turns red. Incredibly annoying. It feels like there is a lightning storm 24 hours a day from the flash for the houses along RI ave between 2nd and 1st." said another.

"We're on the 100 block of RI Ave NW (next to Arli actually) and that thing flashes constantly for no reason whatsoever. We're used to it, but it's still pretty annoying and clearly NOT working properly. It would only take a DDOT employee, or whoever is responsible for it, an hour or two of observing it to see how horribly awry this camera is!"

"It's just another going green project for DC gov. The green from our pockets."
Salatti said he would ask DDOT and the DMV to investigate.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

More Concerns Surface About Brentwood’s Cameras

On August 13, 2010 Melvin Catterton, a retired Anne Arundel police officer living in Annapolis, was surprised to find a letter marked “Police Department Notice” from the Brentwood Police in his mailbox.  He was even more surprised to open the envelope and see that this was a speed camera citation.  Why?  Because he had never been in Brentwood.

According to Catterton, his car is a Mercury Marquis SED plate number FOP-1023.  The vehicle in the image was a 2000 C Class Mercedes with a blurred tag number.  Catterton took the image to an optometrist who used her magnifying equipment and read the tag number “1823”. 

The citation (#8w101654820) was signed by Brentwood Police chief David Risik.  Catterton called Risik and confronted him about the matter.  Among other things, he questioned why a citation was issued if the tag # was blurred , and whether Risik merely “rubber stamped” every citation without comparing the citation vehicle with the M.V.A vehicle description. 

Catterton wrote a letter the Brentwood's mayor and council dated August 24th expressing his frustration with the situation.  He was so angered with Risik’s attitude during the conversation that he went to a Brentwood town meeting the second Tuesday in September and confronted Mayor Montgomery-Wright about the matter.

This is not the first concern which has been raised about Brentwood’s speed cameras.   We have already documented that the speed limit on the portion of US Route 1 (Rhode Island Avenue) was lowered in April from 35mph to 25mph in the immediate vicinity of the speed cameras which were installed shortly thereafter (one camera is used by Brentwood, another by Mount Rainier).  The Washington Examiner reported that the town’s contractor, Optotraffic, is investigating whether their cameras have inaccurately recorded the speeds of some large vehicles including buses.

Brentwood was forced to institute a ‘speed camera amnesty program’ for citations issued between June 24 and July 13, 2010.  Police Chief Risk apparently approved over 3500 citations during that period.  However Risik’s contract with the town expired on June 24 and the council refused to renew it, and as such he was not legally a police officer at the time and not authorized to approve citations.  After a new council member started her term in July a new contract was signed on July 19th (which we note is 6 days after the end of the amnesty period).  Two council members, who opposed reinstating Risik, did not sign the new contract.   The amnesty was at first offered to Brentwood residents and advertised only on a local blog, but the Gazette later reported in August that this had been extended to all ticket recipients.  People who have gotten such citations have reported not receiving such a refund so far.  A copy of this letter obtained by StopBigBrotherMD was dated August 23rd, meaning refunds should be paid before the end of November.  In a Brentwood town council session, it was discussed that Brentwood would pay Optotraffic over $50,000 to pay for the refunds, to cover both the town’s portion and the contractor’s portion of each citation.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Baltimore Closes School, Keeps School Zone Camera

The Baltimore Sun has reported on that the city has kept in place the "School Zone" signs, and the speed camera, for Cardinal Gibbons High School school which closed in June.

"Now, the parking lot off Desoto Road is filled with the vehicles of employees of St. Agnes Hospital, not school faculty. But yellow "school zone" signs at the intersection of Wilkens Avenue and Desoto still remind drivers to slow down, and a red light and speed enforcement camera monitor their behavior.

William Debord, who lives in the Morrell Park neighborhood, drives his grandson past the former Gibbons campus through that intersection to Mount St. Joseph High School, and he often sees the speed camera flash when drivers turn right on red. A sign bars right turns onto Desoto between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. — traditional school hours.

"I think it's ridiculous to have it that way now," Debord said. "There's no school there."

He's never gotten a ticket there himself, but thinks the camera should go.

Spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes for Baltimore's Department of Transportation said that the speed camera still falls within a half-mile radius around other schools.  The city claimed that there were two other schools within a 1/2 mile radius of this location, however when the Sun looked up the named locations on a map they concluded that those facilities were farther than 1/2 mile away.  City officials of course disagreed with that conclusions so the camera remains, 4 months after the grounds of the school it was placed for became a parking lot.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Freeway Work Zone Cameras Increasing

The State Highway Administration is in the process of expanding its fleet of freeway work zone speed cameras and there has seen a steep rise in the number of citations issued.  So far the state has issued 118,500 citations from four locations.  One single camera, located on I-695 at Charles street has so far issued 58,080 citations, primarily because the speed limit at that location has been lowered to 50mph.

A new freeway camera, located on Route 15 at Hayward Road, is going up this week.  The speed limit at that site has been lowered by 10mph in the southbound direction so that cameras can issue citations at just 2mph over the previous 55mph speed limit "Regardless of whether workers are present" under the terms of state law.  In a videotaped town council session one Frederick City council woman quipped that this camera would "probably pay for the whole project".

The SHA reported to the Towson Times that data on reductions in accidents, if any, was "not available" at this time.  They nevertheless claimed that cameras are a success because "Statistics gathered from other automated speed enforcement locations are proving that drivers are slowing down as much as 5 to 7 mph through some of our work zones".

However this reported slowdown could be entirely attributable to the use of speed trailers ("Your Speed" signs) which are currently deployed at these work zones.  There have been many studies showing that such display signs are highly effective at reducing average speeds in locations such as work zones and school zones, including one by the Texas Transportation Institute showing average speed reductions of over 5mph from cameras.  In fact the Maryland SHA was well aware of this fact when they made their claim, because in 2005 the Maryland SHA conducted their own study which showed speed trailers (without speed cameras) reduced average speeds in work zones by up to 7mph.  However the SHA made no mention of this fact when they quoted their statistics on speed cameras to the press.
There is no legal requirement that speed trailers be used at speed cameras sites, and they are NOT a standard fixture at most work zones without speed cameras.  As such their use at speed camera sites could easily be a 'special introductory offer' which ends at any time... say sometime after November 2nd.