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:

  • In most cases 'school zone speed cameras' have been placed in areas never designated or marked as school zones before statewide speed cameras were approved.  This is true in Baltimore City, New Carrollton, Brentwood, Mount Rainier, Forest Heights, Cheverly, and many other towns which have recently added cameras.  The SHA released guidance stating "school  zones should not be established solely for the purpose of installing speed cameras" and "Not all roadways within a ½ mile radius of schools are considered School Zones".  Yet this has not prevented the creation of new school zones solely for speed camera use on roads not adjacent to any school.
  •  In some towns, such as Cheverly, Brentwood, and Mount Rainier, the newly approved camera sites are at locations where speed limits were lowered right before cameras were added. 
  • Many of the restrictions in state law have been bent or broken, demonstrating how local governments consider themselves above the law:
  •  Innocent people HAVE received tickets:
    • A camera in Baltimore was configured to the wrong speed limit for weeks, issuing hundreds of tickets in error.
    • Cameras in Forest Heights and Brentwood have been recording some very large vehicles at speeds which would be impossible under the circumstances.  In some cases drivers of commercial vehicles had their careers threatened over these false tickets.
    • Citations have gone out to drivers for vehicles which are not even theirs, sometimes from cities they have never even been to, proving that in many cases there is no meaningful human review taking place before citations are sent.
  • Speed cameras are stripping drivers of due process rights.   In Forest Heights, some drivers who tried to exercise their right to challenge tickets were not given court dates and instead were sent late notices with additional penalties and statements that their registrations would be suspended if they did not pay.  Forest Heights has also denied a MPIA request for public records pertaining to this situation.  Should these drivers be fortunate enough to eventually receive a hearing, they will still be subjected to a lower burden of proof than for any other type of violation in the state.
  • Claims by officials that the cameras are not about revenue are laughable in the face of actions by some local governments.  Baltimore City voted to include $7million in speed camera revenue in their budget before the cameras were approved by the city or any camera sites selected.   Towns such as Cheverly and Forest Heights have planned to vastly increase their budgets using fines from cameras placed on major state highways.
  • Claims that speed cameras have improved safety are in fact exaggerated.  Montgomery county saw a large increase in traffic fatalities in the first half of 2010, bucking a nationwide trend, even as more speed camera sites were being added. Meanwhile other methods exists which can produce the same reductions in average traffic speeds where that is necessary.
Many of you resent the cameras.  Maybe at some level you understand how these cameras can easily be used to impose ‘taxation without representation’ on out of town drivers.  Maybe you understand that many drivers have no practical way to fight these citations, and that a corrupt local government would have no need to be fair to out of town drivers.  Some of you have take action, but most of you have sat on the sidelines, hoping someone else will fight this battle for you.  My message to you now is that YOUR TIME IS UP

If there is no change to makeup of our representation in Annapolis, and the supporters of speed cameras do not pay a price, then the result will be predictable.  Within the next four years the number of cameras will balloon from hundreds to thousands, with over a million citations going out every month.  The camera companies are heavily pushing to see the restrictions on cameras eliminated and the fines raised.  They want to see new types of photo enforcement, such as cameras on school buses, cameras at stop signs, or cameras enforcing cell phone restrictions.  With each of these the burden on drivers to prove they are innocent will increase.  By the time voters have a chance to weigh in again, the ‘Free State’ will be a full blown 'surveillance state'.  Every driver will be at the mercy of whichever local government is most corrupt or least competent.

We need allies at the state and county level and we need them NOW.  To make a difference on November 2nd, we need every single opponent of speed cameras to cast their vote.  We have documented the position of the state lawmakers on statewide speed cameras here:

Simple fact: Governor O’Malley supported statewide cameras, whereas his opponent former Governor Ehrlich vetoed the state's first speed camera law when he was in office (this was overridden by the democrat controlled legislature).  It is now up to you.  But if you don’t vote you have no right to complain!