Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Year in Review

It's been a busy year for Maryland speed camera. New speed cameras and new camera programs are popping up all over the state, with camera vendors and local governments are all scrambling for their piece of what is now an over $77million per year statewide industry (and growing).  Here is our 2011 year in review:


1) Speed camera vendor ACS State and Local Solutions (A division of Xerox Corporation) was revealed to be running "Astroturf" website, claiming to be grass roots organizations supporting speed cameras in Baltimore County and Howard County, when in fact they were started by a public relations company hired by ACS.  ACS revealed their affiliation with the websites only after the association was revelead by Patch.com.  The campaign nevertheless proved successful, with the Baltimore County County voting to expand their program and Howard County voting to begin a new speed camera program.

2) A legislative change, which would have required that "workzone speed cameras" only be deployed in workzones where there are actual workers, was rejected by the state legislature.  Current law permits "workzone" cameras to be used "regardless of whether workers are present", and many if not most of the tickets issued by SHA cameras so far have been issued when no work was taking place.  The SHA this year began deploying cameras on I-270, in a zone where the speed limit is reduced by 10mph, and on the DC Beltway (495).

3) Legislation was proposed which would have removed all police oversight from the issuance of speed camera citations. StopBigBrotherMD.org argued that this change would increase the likelyhood of errors and a reduce accountability by local governments.  The requirement that sworn police approve citations was one of the main arguments made by camera supporters that there is an adequate level of review before citations are sent.  The proposal which was rejected but the City of Rockville is lobbying to revive it, along with the city of Laurel (who initially proposed the change in 2011), and by the City of Gaithersburg.

4) Claims that all photo citations are currently inspected by police were questioned.  In one incident, the City of Baltimore issued 2000 red light camera tickets which had been "approved" by a police officer who had been deceased for months.

In another incident, Baltimore ticketed the wrong vehicle.  The citations in fact did not clearly show the vehicle at all, and the plate number was not clear, indicating that citation review procedures apparently do not always include looking at the citation images.  The ticketed motorist was forced to spend months getting the bogus citation removed from his record after this registration was flagged by the city.

5) It was revealed that speed cameras provided by speed camera vendor ACS to the SHA's freeway workzone camera program, to Baltimore County, and other jurisdictions all failed to meet a requirement that they be certified by an "independent calibration laboratory", instead the cameras were all certified by the vendor.  Baltimore County was unable to answer questions about the testing of their cameras at the time of our inquiry.  After StopBigBrotherMD.org exposed the fact to the state legislature and members of the press, ACS arranged to find a company willing to re-certify the devices.... meeting the letter of the law only after the devices had already been in use for over a year and issued hundreds of thousands of citations.  Even after that, the devices were still only tested according to a "manufacturer specification", testing the frequency the devices transmit on, and were not certified by the IACP (a much higher standard that was a requirement of the SHA's rfp for speed monitoring systems).

6) Some jurisdictions in Maryland are engaging in the practices of issuing red light camera tickets to vehicles which come to a full stop but are past the white 'stop line'.  The practice has been defended by Prince George's County authorities.  Other jurisdictions have been issuing red light tickets for other types of "technical fouls" including rolling right turns.  Public relation campaigns by camera vendors and local governments supporting red light cameras almost always focus on 'straight through' red light running, despite the fact that when 'technical fouls' are ticketed only a minority of tickets are for actual red light running.

7) The consumer advocacy group USPIRG released a report cautioning on the privatization of law enforcement associated with automated enforcement.  The report cited the effects of turning law enforcement responsibilities over to for-profit companies, typically under contract arrangements which incentive them to maximize the number of tickets issued (a common practice in Maryland).  It also warned of the political clout camera companies have accumulated through lobbying activities to increase the revenue potential of cameras.  The report also warned that private vendors can conceal information from the public since they are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

8) There has been an ongoing dispute over the accuracy of speed cameras built by Optotraffic, a division of Sigma Space Corporation.  A business owner in Forest Heights successfully contested several citations issued to vehicles run by his business using time-distance calculations from citation images to show that the vehicles could not have been traveling the speed shown on the citations. Another motorist presented electronic evidence recorded by a "carchip" showing his vehicle had not been traveling the speed on the citation issued by an Optotraffic camera in College Park.  Other motorists made their claims publicly in letters to the editor.  Forest Heights responded to the charges by plagiarizing an earlier response from the town of Cheverly where similar claims had been made earlier.  There were also frequent denials of requests for information about camera programs under the Maryland Public Information act, camera logs which appear to have been falsified or filled out weeks after the fact, and motorists who tried to contest citations but were unable to get hearings for months or in some cases over a year.  In addition, it was discovered that Optotraffic had removed information from citations, specifically lowering the precision of the timestamps from 3 decimal places to 1, after motorists started using the timestamped images to challenge speed readings.

Optotraffic continued to deny the errors, and public officials in Prince George's county remained unconcerned about the issue, which the county having already selected Optotraffic as their vendor (a company which had made thousands of dollars in contributions to the campaign and inauguration of the county executive.)  Prince George's County unveiled a plan to deploy 72 new speed camera sites, with proposed locations including newly minted school zones created solely for speed camera use.  One of the new cameras experienced technical glitches shortly after going online, but nevertheless the first few cameras pulled in $527,000 worth of fines in the first month.

9) After the county program started, Prince George's county courts eventually stopped hearing arguments about accuracy all together.  One motorist contesting a citation from Forest Heights was arrested and throw in a detention cell merely for stating "I was not speeding" in court.  Another Prince George's County Judge threw out the presumption of innocence completely, stating to an entire courtroom full of defendants prior to hearing any evidence that "The only defense that the court is going to accept if you were not the driver of the vehicle" and that the court would not consider any evidence questioning the accuracy of the devices.

10) Eventually the town of Cheverly disclosed documents PROVING that errors with Optotraffic cameras were real .  The town's contract with Optotraffic was ended after the vendor failed to respond to questions from the town about errors, including cameras "recording" a bicycle going 57mph, "invisible vehicles" traveling 76mph, "false triggers" caused by moisture in the air, and "false speed readings for vehicles that have an irregular size such as buses and trucks with ladder racks."  Optotraffic cameras are still being used in numerous municipalities, issuing thousands of tickets per month.


Given the rate at which automated enforcement is growing in the state, we're sure 2012 will be even more "interesting" than 2011.  We'll be all over it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Mount Airy Considers Speed Cameras, Creating New School Zones

The town of Mount Airy is considering the deployment of speed cameras, in a plan which involves creating new school zones specifically for speed camera use and possibly lowering speed limits as well.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Speed Cameras Now a $77Million Industry in Maryland

The Maryland Comptroller's office has released data to StopBigBrotherMD.org in response to a Public Information Act request revealing that 13 municipalities reported speed camera revenue totaling $36million in the Fiscal Year from July, 2010-June30 2011.  Combined with other cities, counties, and the State of Maryland's program whose revenue data is available in open sources, this adds up to approximately $77million worth of speed camera revenue in one year, or the equivalent of approximately 1.9million citations.

When Statewide speed cameras were passed, a provision of the law  law includes a provision that
"(ii)    1.   For any fiscal year, if the balance remaining from the fines collected by a political subdivision as a result of violations enforced by speed monitoring systems, after the costs of implementing and administering the systems are recovered in accordance with subparagraph (i)1 of this paragraph, is greater than 10% of the total revenues of the political subdivision for the fiscal year, the political subdivision shall remit any funds that exceed 10% of the total revenues to the Comptroller."

All municipalities running speed camera programs were required to file an SMS-1 form with the comptroller's office reporting their total speed camera revenue, program expenses, total municipal budget, and remit a portion of their revenue if it exceeded 10% of their budget.  Only 10 jurisdictions reported by the deadline, with 3 more reporting within 6 weeks after the due date with the Comptroller's consent.  The data reported was as follows:

Several Municipalities running speed camera programs did not report by the due date, including Rockville, Gaithersburg, New Carrollton, Glenarden, District Heights, Capital Heights, Landover Hills, Chestertown, Seat Pleasant, and Frederick.  It is not obvious whether the volume of the tickets issued by any of these programs in FY11 would have been sufficient for them to have owed any revenue to the state under the provision, or whether they received permission for the delay in reporting.

Only 5 jurisdictions owed money under the '10% rule': Riverdale Park, College Park, Forest Heights, Chevy Chase, and Mount Rainier.  Baltimore had by far the largest haul among cities, but due to the size of their budget was nowhere near the provision.

When adding to this the value of citations issued by the State of Maryland, and revenue reported by several other jurisdictions in open sources, this adds up to a one year total of over $77million.
There was insufficient public information available for Glenarden, District Heights, Capital Heights, Landover Hills, Chestertown, Seat Pleasant, or Frederick to estimate their revenue totals so the total amount could be somewhat greater.

Most of the jurisdictions included the speed camera revenue (including the contractor's fee) as part of their 'total revenue' reported to the Comptroller and used that to compute the maximum 10% they were allowed to retain.  If the amount of revenue earned is modest this has only a small effect.  However in the case of Forest Heights and Chevy Chase the effect was huge:  Forest Height in particular had more revenue from speed camera than from all other sources, meaning that the 10% they were permitted to retain actually represented increasing their budget without speed camera revenue by 22.13%.  This way of measuring budget size also permitted the town of Brentwood from paying any revenue to the Comptroller under this rule.

In addition 'expenses' were not defined by the state law.  Chevy Chase in particular cited 72% of their speed camera revenue as an expense, largely because they had shifted regular police salaries into the 'expenses' of the safe speed budget, declaring over $360,000 worth of police salaries as expenses of the speed camera program. Forest Heights also appears to have a larger than normal portion of 'expenses', declaring expenses which are approximately $270,000.00 above their contractor's fee : an amount equal to about10% of their non-speed camera funded budget.  This means that all together Forest Heights used speed cameras to increase their budget by more than 30% beyond what it would have been without speed cameras.

Forest Heights apparently plans to retain a larger proportion of this revenue in FY2012, having included an undefined $4,492,524.00 "INTERGOVERMENT" fund as part of their FY2012 budget.  This means that their budget used to compute their "10%" in FY2012 is projected to be $7,768,726.00, compared to a budget of less than $2million prior to the town's adoption of speed cameras... more than tripling the size of their budget in 3 years.  The Comptroller was asked in our Public Information Act request for an opinion as to whether counting this type of fund for this purpose was legal, and stated that they were unable to provide one. 

In addition to the municipalities reporting, Rockville earned a projected $2.1million in revenue and Gaithersburg $2.4million.  New Carrollton did not file a report within the scheduled timeframe, but their FY12 budget document showed a projected $750,000 in speed camera revenue for FY11.  Baltimore County collected about $2.3million.  

Montgomery County's FY12 budget projected speed camera revenues in FY11 of $10,687,000 in citations, as well as $1,200,000 in late fees and $320,000 in flagging fees.  The $25 late fees imposed by most camera programs have the potential to increase revenues earned from the tickets.  In addition the contractors collect an additional fee of about $3 per ticket from drivers who pay through their online payment websites, adding to their bottom lines.

Total payments to the State of Maryland by municipalities were $2,241,385.00.  Of the 5 jurisdictions who reached the threshold under this provision, 4 of them were Optotraffic contractors.  The Optotraffic programs who reported brought in a total of $13million (and several others did not report), placing Optotraffic's cut of that revenue at over $5million.  ACS State and Local Solutions however remains the largest contractor, since they control the large contracts with Montgomery County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Rockville, Gaithersburg, Takoma Park, Chevy Chase, and the State of Maryland.

The only program to claim a loss was Cheverly, who reported expenses exceeding camera revenues.  Cheverly's contract with Optotraffic was recently broken off after they experienced numerous technical issues.  Documents released by Cheverly revealed that the Optotraffic cameras they had been using (the same type used by programs in College Park, Forest Heights, New Carrollton, Riverdale Park, Prince George's County, and several other jurisdictions) had produced speed measurement errors, a revelation which supports the assertions by some who claimed they received erroneous citation from Optotraffic Cameras in jurisdictions like Forest Heights, College Park, and Brentwood, where alleged errors have also been reported.  Cheverly had at one time predicted annual speed camera revenue of $2,808,500.00 in FY11 in an earlier version of their 5 year budget forecast.  But instead after several citizens complained about receiving erroneous tickets the town was forced to institute tighter procedures.  They eventually experienced new technical issues which forced them to stop approving citations and take cameras offline, and the revenue never materialized.  After the contractor was unable to resolve or adequately explain the problems, Optoraffic declared that Cheverly's speeding problem was 'solved', broke of the contract, and Cheverly signed a new contract with speed camera contractor Brekford corp who uses a different model of camera.  Cheverly then took the appropriate and courageous step of coming clean and released the telling documents revealing the issues they had experienced.  We will never know for sure how much if any of the revenue collected by the many other jurisdictions using these cameras might have come from innocent drivers, and their contractor denies any errors have ever occurred.

The State's own SafeZones program issued a total of 522,802 citations during the same July 2010-June 2011 time period, according to information on the SHA website.  These citations would have a net value of $20,912,080.00 if fully paid.  Some citations will go unpaid, however like Montgomery County they will also collect additional revenue from late and MVA flagging fees which will at least partially offset that.
The "10% rule" went into effect on October 1, 2009 when statewide speed cameras went into effect.  The attorney General had sent a letter of advice to Chevy Chase Village, stating the following:
"Thus, it is my view that, after costs of implementing and administering the system, any fund balance from fines remaining at the end of fiscal year 2010 (June 30, 2010) and each fiscal year thereafter that is in excess of 10% of the total revenues for a political subdivision, must be remitted to the comptroller for deposit to the general fund of the state.  It is further my view that any funds collected under a current speed monitoring system that are not spent or encumbered by the political subdivision by June 30, 2010 will be included in the balance remaining from the fines for the purpose of determining whether the balance is greater than 10% of the revenues of the political subdivision."


Despite this, the Comptroller reported that no money or information about speed camera revenues were collected from municipalities for FY2010 (July 1,2009-June30 2010), and was not able to provide a document explaining this apparent discrepancy.

Chevy Chase Village had a large amount of speed camera revenue prior to FY2010, as well as an approximately $3million dollar speed camera reserve fund which the AG's letter opined was also to be counted towards the total.  We asked the Comptroller's office to provide documentation for why no revenue information or payments were collected for the FY10 year and they were unable to provide any.  Several jurisdictions besides Chevy Chase had existing programs or started programs early in FY2010 which at least in theory could have reached the 10% budget threshold.

Under state law, municipalities and counties are only supposed to be spent on "public safety".  However the term is completely undefined under state law, and jurisdictions are permitted to supplant existing expenses previously paid for out of the general fund.  For all intents and purposes a jurisdiction can declare any amount of existing expenses .  We have previously documented how Chevy Chase Village has included items general operating expenses as well as items like copiers, Cable TV lines, and a Segway.  In their FY11 budget included additional items such as snow plows and sidewalk or road paving, on the grounds that there is some relationship to safety.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Prince Georges County Court Openly Presumes All Defendants Guilty

Prince George's County Courts have apparently now removed even the trappings of due process and the presumption of innocence from speed camera hearings.  On November 9th, Prince George's County Associate Judge Jean Baron made the statements that the court would not accept any evidence or arguments regarding the accuracy of the device, and that the only defense they would accept was that someone else was driving and to provide that person's identity.  The following opening statements were made by the judge to an entire room full of defendants in Forest Heights Speed Camera cases, before any cases were presented or any evidence or arguments heard:

"The only defense that the court is going to accept if you were not the driver of the vehicle, and you have the name and the address of the person who was driving, and you present that to the court under oath I will accept that as a defense.  Please don't tell me that you know you couldn't have been going that fast or there is something wrong with the equipment.  There is someone here from the jurisdiction who testifies that the equipment was calibrated and validated, or is "self calibrating", and then I'm not going to be able to accept that as a defense."

The statements were made less than two days after documents disclosed by the town of Cheverly were made public, about numerous technical problems they had experienced with the same type of speed cameras (made by Optotraffic, a division of Sigma Space Corporation) as the ones which issued the Forest Heights citations being contested.   The documented errors included an "invisible vehicle" traveling 76mph, a bike traveling 57mph, "unlikely" speed readings for "irregular shaped" vehicles and vehicles with ladder racks and trailers, and "false triggers" caused by moisture in the air.  The cameras Cheverly had been using had the same "self calibration" mechanism as the Forest Heights camera tickets being contested in the November 9th hearing, yet the documents did not state that the automatic calibration tests had failed when the errors occurred.  Cheverly and Optotraffic broke off their contract after the town raised the technical problems and Cheverly has since signed with a new vendor.  The contents of those documents supported claims that the Optotraffic cameras had produced significant number of errors, documented extensively on this site, while Optotraffic has flatly  denied they have experienced any errors.  Optotraffic cameras are also used by Prince George's County's new speed camera program and several other municipalities in Princec George's County.

Listen to the recording for yourself:
and decide whether a hearing held after statements such as the ones made on this day could even remotely be considered a fair, that it is possible the judge had not pre-judged every case that day.  And since she was so confident in what town officials would testify to and what the conclusion she would draw from that would be, should one not wonder what evidence or direction she had been given outside this courtroom setting, and don't the principals of our legal system require defendants be given access to that and have an opportunity to challenge it?

It is a sad sad day for Maryland drivers and for our Justice System.  I hate to be the bearer of  bad news, but it appears that all that stuff you believed in about "reasonable doubt" and the "presumption of innocence" are really just childish fantasies like the tooth fairy... not a fact on the ground for ordinary citizens.  When push comes to shove, the system will not suffer The People to interfere with their cash cow by contesting tickets or perhaps even proving the devices might be flawed.  This is How Justice Dies: with the Presumption of Guilt.

Note: StopBigBrotherMD.org does not believe this is reason to capitulate and stop contesting citations.  Citizens who believe they have received an unfair or incorrect ticket should contest it and insist as loudly as possible that they be provided real due process.  If the people meekly accept this, matters will only get worse.  Fighting back against an unjust system is your civic duty!!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Red Light Cameras Ticket Stopped Cars

Cha-Ching!
Prince George's County Police are defending a policy of using red light cameras to ticket motorists who come to a full stop at intersections just past the white 'stop line'.

Nolan Church said he received a ticket there for running a red light, in a location where the stop line was three car lengths away from the intersection.  "I absolutely stopped. I was stopped."  County police respond that the stop line is placed where it is to leave space for emergency vehicles.  AAA Spokesman John Townsend disagreed "What the municipality did was to expand the crosswalk. To entrap and ensnare people."

Under Maryland law it is a technical violation of the law to come to stop at a red light past the stop line, even if the car does not enter the intersection or the crosswalk.  However in some cases the stop line is place several car lengths prior to the crosswalk, giving many drivers the impression that they can proceed farther.  In some cases motorists may wish to see into the intersection in order to make turns (for safety), or the driver may simply miscalculate their stopping distance.

Most people are unaware that at some intersections the large majority of red light camera citations are for these 'technical violations' which have almost no chance of causing an accident, rather than 'straight through' red light running -- until they receive such a ticket themselves.  Stop line violations can greatly outnumber actual red-light running violations, so ticketing for such offenses increases the profitability of a red light camera system, both for the municipalities and the contractors who are paid based on the number of citations.

In Maryland red light camera tickets typically carry a $75 fine, with an implied threat to increase the penalty to $100 if the violation is challenged, discouraging many from contesting tickets.  Some violations issued by municipalities such as New Carrolton, which have a policy of using cameras to issue stop line tickets, have been successfully challenged in court.

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1/12/2012: Observe how this is part of a national trend, with red light cameras used to ticket motorists engaged in perfectly safe behavior: http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/36/3687.asp

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Optotraffic Contract with Cheverly Canceled, Town Records Expose Camera Errors

Optotraffic's speed camera contract with the town of Cheverly was canceled in August of this year, and records released by the town in response to a public information act request reveal a variety of errors and technical issues with the Optotraffic cameras which the town had complained about.
In a July 26, 2011 letter to Mario Bohorquez, Chief Commercial Officer of Optotraffic (a Division of Sigma Space Corporation), the town administrator discussing a variety of errors which the company had been unable to satisfactorily explain or remedy.
------------------------------------------------------------

I am writing as a follow-up to my April letter and our subsequent meeting on May 4rth regarding various problems with your equipment and administrative issues.

Violations with tags visible in only one photo were an issue in April.

At the meeting, you indicated that these were false triggers that could have been caused by moisture in the air.  We note that if 90% of the photos collected were false triggers, then we were concerned about the accuracy of the remaining 10% where two tag images were captured.  You noted that the cameras were working correctly, however, you agreed to have the technicians look at the camera.  They did, and it was removed from service.  The cameras returned to service in a number of days later and was capturing photos of vehicles doing less than the posted speed limit, vehicles doing the speed limit and still vehicles in violation, but with only one tag image.
 
On July 21rst I was called to a meeting by your staff members to again discuss the situation.  Mickey was ill-prepared and had us all wait while he read the technical staff report provided by Ms. Anjenette Cramer, which he noted was very technical and could not be explained in laymen's terms.  He did state that there was nothing wrong with the camera and it was taken to download upgraded software.  We noted the capturing of speeds under the posted speed limit and he explained it as having been set low in the shot, but not reset when put back in service.  We noted that we were still getting one tag pictures for violators, this precluding us from issuing tickets in accordance with the state law.  He did not believe us and would not accept our statement unless he saw proof.  Not having it in hand the meeting was concluded until we could provide proof.  ENCLOSED is the proof.


Not only are the cameras still not functioning properly, they now are producing violations for invisible vehicles going 76 miles per hour (violation # 79) and bicycles going 38 and 57 miles per hour (violation #2790 & #2783) and now violations with just a part of a vehicle in only one photo.

Finally, we continue to get false speed readings for vehicles that have an irregular size such as buses and trucks with ladder racks.


Rather than have meeting to have Mickey tell us "that it’s technical" we would like you to have an explanation for the equipment problems provided to us in writing.  I look forward to hearing from you in the next 10 days."
-------------------------------------------------------------------
The town did not release citation images, which are exempt from disclosure under the Public Information Act.  No written response from Optotraffic was included in the disclosure, if one was ever provided.

Shortly thereafter in August, with Cheverly officials apparently having lost faith in their company and hardware and had previously declared them to be "in breach of contract" in an April 21rst letter, Optotraffic sought to get ahead of the situation by exercising the option in the contract to terminate it (thus making it appear that the decision to do so was theirs).  At the same time Optotraffic widely distributing press releases declaring that it had "successfully accomplished its mission to support the Town of Cheverly in its efforts to reduce speeding".  The company even claimed that they had brought about a 96% reduction in speed violations, BUT FAILED TO MENTION THE FACT THAT THE REDUCTION IN CITATIONS WAS DUE TO HARDWARE MALFUNCTIONS.  In fact this was noted in another document disclosed by the town "Finally, I would be remiss to not note that the reduction /elimination of the ticket volume in the month of July and August were a result of the malfunctioning of the camera, which was the topic of our discussion at our June 14th meeting and resulted in the removal and attempted repair of the camera.  The explanations from your staff of the calibration error codes, false positives, malfunctions due to moisture in the air, uploading of new software and the break down of the generator served to reduce the number of citable speeding violations."

Unfortunately, the Optotraffic press release was only the latest in a long string of deceptions by the company.  Optotraffic employees have been standing up before the public, elected officials, and the press stating that the company had never seen proof of any errors by their cameras.  Those statements do not seem to be true.

In addition to the errors, other documents describe how calibration tests were not working properly, with calibration logs not appearing in the system until days after they were supposed to have been performed.

Additional documents dating back to August 2010 show police voiding citations for vehicles with ladder racks or trailers under the apparent belief that the speed measurement was incorrect.  "Also, if ladders atop trucks fives a false reading do roof racks, ski rackes, etc, cause a similar false reading?  Such as the following events..." a Cheverly Police officer wrote to Optotraffic CFO Mario Bohorquez in an August 6 2010 email.  No response to that question from Optotraffic was included in any of the disclosed documents.
SEE ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS FROM CHEVERLY DISCLOSURE

(update 11/12/2011): Cheverly published a statement saying that it is "confident that all citations issued through its Speed Enforcement Program are accurate", stating that they had a strict standards for issuing citations "above and beyond the normal citation issuance process" and that all citations issued passed that review. 

We have reported extensively on the situation with Optotraffic cameras previously, including how some citizens in Cheverly had confronted the town council in the summer of 2010 about camera errors.  Other town residents had complained to town officials in private under the belief they had received citations with erroneous speed readings prior to the disclosure.

Reports of erroneous speed reading with large vehicles in other towns, like those described in the Cheverly documents, date back to summer of 2010 at the same time similar incidents had been reported elsewhere.  We have documented how errors have also been reported in College Park, Forest Heights, and several other towns.  Yet unfortunately, other local government clients chose to circle the wagons and deny the errors took place.  When defendants from those other towns go to court to challenge their tickets, representatives from those governments and Optotraffic have been standing up in court making claims about the accuracy and reliability of these machines and that they are operated and maintained properly (often without proof), and judges tend to believe those claims.  It seems reasonable to assume that innocent people may have been found guilty based on such testimony.

Cheverly has done the responsible thing, by admitting the problems they experienced and removing the cause of those problems (Optotraffic).  They should be commended for taking the risk and doing the right thing.  But other towns have not done so.  It is time for an independent investigation into Optotraffic's cameras, but more importantly into Optotraffic itself.  It is time for the public to find out whether other local governments have had similar issues, and who knew about these errors when Optotraffic was standing up before elected officials, the press, and in court, stating that they have had no errors.  It is time for other local governments who, unlike Cheverly, have obstructed public information act requests to keep the truth from the public (we will be placing a spotlight on THOSE local governments in the near future), to come clean and release ALL the records they have pertaining to errors with these devices.  And perhaps it is time to investigate whether some obstructions and deceptions may in fact constitute criminal violations of the law.

We will have MUCH more on this story.  Please come back soon.

Additional Coverage:
  Washington Examiner
  Washington Times
  WJLA
  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

DC Council Members Propose Lowering Speed Limits to 15mph

DC Carpoolers May Soon Really be Slugging it to Work
Two DC council members have proposed legislation to lower speed limits on numerous residential streets in the District from 25mph to 15mph.  According to WTOP, Council Members Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells say their proposal would make streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. "Dialing back our speed 10, even 15 miles per hour while we're on neighborhood streets, it literally adds up to second, maybe a minute or two," Miller says. "Isn't the safety of our children and our seniors and everybody worth a couple of minutes of driving safely?"

DC has one of the most extensive photo enforcement programs in the nation, bringing in $40.7million in speed camera revenue in FY2010.  Unlike Maryland, there are no specific restrictions on where cameras can be placed, and no specific 'threshhold' above the speed limit when tickets can be issued.  Were the proposal to go forwards, there would be no legal reason the District could not deploy speed cameras to ticket previously law-abiding drivers for traveling at breakneck speeds in the range of 16-20mph.

In addition, since driving even 1mph over the speed limit is a technical violation of the law, a driver recklessly traveling over 15mph could be legally be pulled over by police and ticketed.  Given that most cars can exceed 15mph without even touching the gas pedal, nearly every driver would end up exceeding 15mph at some point.  From a civil liberties perspective DC would be giving police probable cause to stop any driver at almost any time, charge them with a traffic violation, and thereby potentially subject their vehicles to a search as well.

The proposal is likely based on the common misconception that drivers always drive 5-10mph over the speed limit regardless of what it is set at.  However numerous studies have shown that this is not the case: the reality is that most drivers travel at what they believe is the safe speed for conditions, that lowering (or raising) speed limits has little overall effect on traffic accident rates, and that the primary affect in lowering speed limits is to reduce compliance and increase the public's contempt for the law (See studies listed on the NMA's website).  If DC has such contempt for their own residents that they wish to turn reasonable safe drivers into lawbreakers and encourage the belief that speed limits are unreasonable and not set by any rational standard, by all means set the speed limit to 15mph.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Study Cautions on Privatizing Law Enforcement

A new study by a pro-consumer group says the practice of privatizing law enforcement of traffic violations may be putting profits ahead of safety and accuracy. An estimated 60 million Americans live in communities where the are monitored by automated ticketing machines, according to the study by the US Public Research Group (US PIRG), a left-leaning public interest group.

"Pitfalls can arise when contracts encourage vendors to treat automated traffic enforcement systems as a profit center: by maximizing the number of tickets written, regardless of the impact on public safety; by limiting the ability of governments to set traffic safety policies according to community needs; or by constraining the ability of cities to terminate contracts early in the event that automated enforcement systems are rejected by the electorate or fail to meet safety goals," the study explained.

The report points out how most contract arrangements provide incentives to contractors which could compromise the integrity of the system:
"Contracts between private camera vendors and cities can include payment incentives that put profit above traffic safety.", "The most problematic contracts require cities to share revenue with the camera vendor on a per-ticket basis or through other formulas as a percentage of revenue. In other words, the more tickets a camera system issues, the more profit the vendor collects."
In Maryland, state law was supposed to forbid per-ticket contracts, by including the following : ""If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."  However this provision has been effectively circumvented in nearly every jurisdiction in the state, starting with Montgomery County, and soon followed by similar per-ticket contracts in Baltimore City, Forest Heights, Brentwood, Mount Rainier, College Park, New Carrollton, Riverdale Park, Frederick City, Prince George's County, and many others.  In nearly every case the vendor provides, installs/deploys, and maintains the machines, then processes violations, mails violations, and collects payments.  In some cases vendors have also provided the traffic surveys used to determine where cameras should be placed.   Also, in many cases the vendor also schedules court hearings.  Failure of one vendor to provide timely hearings created situations in Forest Heights where drivers needed to wait OVER A YEAR to receive hearings, by which time the "speed monitoring system operator" who signed the logs, was no longer available to testify about an apparent possible failure to perform the required tests or what appeared to be falsification of evidence --  the testimony of a company representative was accepted instead. 

The study also cautions how "The privatized traffic law enforcement industry has amassed significant political clout that it uses to shape traffic safety nationwide.".  This has manifested itself in Maryland in the form of camera companies lobbying for statewide speed cameras, treating lawmakers to expensive steak dinners, and even one company creating "Astroturf sites" in Baltimore County and Howard County to promote the expansion of speed cameras there. Another concern would be that contracts might be awarded to companies which have made substantial campaign contributions.

Unlike some other studies supporting speed cameras, studies funded by camera companies or other entities which benefit financially from photo enforcement, USPIRG does not have a specific financial interest in photo enforcement one way or the other. 
 
One issue mentioned in the report which we would add is the loss of accountability and transparency, particularly that placement of responsibility in the hands of a private company also places certain records out of the reach of states' open records laws.
"Unlike a public entity, a private operator is not subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the public. It may also seek to prevent public scrutiny by declaring certain information to be a “proprietary business secret.” This should not be allowed."
StopBigBrotherMD.org has witnessed the effect of this in several cases where local governments have claimed that records pertaining to the operation or technical characteristics of speed cameras were in the hands of the contractor rather than the police.  The vendor would then claim that they cannot release the documents, effectively denying a defendant access to evidence they were seeking for their legal defense.  In some cases even documents which by their nature must have been in the hands of the local government which is claimed to "operate" the devices, rather than a contractor which the police claim do not operate the devices, were effectively denied in this way.

More Information on:
                   U.S.PIRG Website                   
                   TheNewsPaper.com
                   USA Today
                   Washington Post

Thursday, October 27, 2011

State Looks to Solve Budget Woes on Backs of Motorists

Faced with yet another looming budget shortfall, the state of Maryland believes it has found a panacea which will solve all its money problems: tax motorists.

The state legislature is set to consider increasing the state's gas tax by 15 cents per gallon in (a 63.8% increase over the current rate of 23.5 cents per gallon).  In addition to a gas tax hike, the proposal would include increasing the vehicle registration fees by 50%, increasing the titling fees from 6% to 6.5%, and doubling the cost of vehicle emissions inspections.

State Senate President Mike Miller has made clear his own intention to ram though a gas tax hike regardless of any opposition, "There's going to be a gas tax." Miller told the Maryland Chamber of Commerce in blunt terms, "It is going to have to get done now."

Supporters of the proposal stated that the revenue is needed, and that it is necessary to shore up the Transportation Trust Fund in order to improve and maintain our transportation infrastructure.  Critics claimed that the state has been raiding the Transportation Trust Fund for years in order to support non-transportation projects.

These increase come after the state decided to substantially raise most tolls in the state, with the new rates going into effect November 1.  As an example, the cash toll rate for the Bay Bridge will be rising from $2.50 to $4, a 60% increase.  The toll at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95) and Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge (US 40) will increase from $.80 to $1.50, an 87.5% increase.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

DHS Doesn't Want Their Plates Photographed

You have probably all seen or heard about the license plate covers which are supposed to shield your plate number from being photographed by speed and red light cameras.  It appears that some police vehicles are equipt with such plate covers, including one FPS(Federal Protective Services, a component of the Department of Homeland Security) vehicle which was photographed in Montgomery County Maryland.
 If you enlarge the image, you can see the plate numbers are actually pretty much legible, not a good indication of the effectiveness of the device.  However another photo taken at the same time which was in somewhat poorer focus showed the characters on the plate at least partially obscured.
So perhaps they are 50% effective.  However that's not a particularly good ratio, given that the devices are illegal in Maryland.  In Maryland a "registration plate cover" is defined as  "any tinted, colored, painted, marked, clear, or illuminated object that is designed to:
(1) Cover any of the characters of a vehicle’s registration plate; or
(2) Distort a recorded image of any of the characters of a vehicle’s registration plate recorded by a traffic control signal monitoring system under § 21-202.1 of this article.
"
and having one on your plate carries a $60 fine. In Virginia, the devices could run you up to a $200 fine, and in DC the maximum fine would be a whopping $500.

In 2005 WTOP reported how some local DC police vehicles had been found with the plate covers, and police responded that they would inform the officers to remove the covers from their plates.  In fact in DC city officials have gone so far as to claim even a license plate frame is illegal if it covers the "Taxation Without Representation" slogan on the plates.

Of course the DHS does not run speed or red light cameras the way local police in Maryland and DC do.  They only have mobile vans which can look inside your car and covertly scan people in crowds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

PG County Cameras Issue over $500,000 worth of tickets in first month

The Washington Examiner has reported that Prince George's County's 14 new camera sites have issued $527,000 (13,173 citations) in the first month of their program.  The article compares this to the early phases of Montgomery County's program, which issued 40,000 citations in the first six months.  The county plans to expand the program to a total of 72 sites, just for starters.

The revenue is divided between the county and the contractor, Optotraffic, who receives a 37% cut of every citation.  The per-ticket contract is despite a provision of state law which reads "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.".  That provision which has been essentially nullified and is being ignored by almost every speed camera program in the state, simply by claiming that the contractor  (who maintains and substantially controls all the cameras) does not 'operate' the devices.  The first of many restrictions in the law to be circumvented, ignored, or otherwise rendered meaningless.

The county's camera vendor, Optotraffic, has been the target of criticism over claims of inaccuracies in their hardware as well as other issues.  The county claims that their cameras are calibrated regularly (using tests which this site has demonstrated to be meaningless and which were not diligently followed by local governments making the same claims), and that citations are all inspected by police.  However despite these claimed inspections in the first week the program went live the county's cameras erroneously issued citations on a weekend when the devices are legally required to be switched off, with a county spokesperson claiming they were 'improperly programmed by the vendor'. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

PG County's New Speed Camera Issues Erroneous Tickets

After only a few days of issuing tickets, officials in Prince George;s County have already reported their first erroneous speed camera citations.  PG County reported that a speed camera located along the 6800-7800 block of High Bridge Road in Bowie sent out 18 erroneous citations.  Police stated that the problem was not due to a speed measurement error but rather because the device was improperly configured to issue citations on a Sunday.  Under Maryland law 'school zone' speed cameras are authorized to issued tickets M-Fri. (Note: Cameras in Montgomery County and those used in SHA workzones are NOT restricted to week days).

A police spokesperson stated to NBC news 4 "On this particular Sunday, Sunday September 25th there were 18 citations issued incorrectly.  We then reviewed all of them.  We got in touch with the individual drivers, one of them had already paid.  They will be reimbursed.  The rest had their tickets waived".

Under state law, all citations are supposedly inspected and approved by a police officer BEFORE tickets are issued, and all citations contain an (electronically imprinted) signature affirming this.  In the case of these citations apparently did not include checking the date of the violation.  Also under state law speed cameras are supposed to be inspected by a county employee 'daily' who signs a 'daily setup log' to that effect... apparently in this case that inspection did not include looking at a calendar to find out what day of the week it was. The county's speed cameras are provided by their vendor, Optotraffic(a division of Sigma Space Corporation), who maintains the cameras in exchange for a cut of the speed camera revenue from each ticket.

According to NBC News 4, PG County police stated that this was an isolated problem with this one speed camera "improperly programmed by the vendor".  However a spokesperson from AAA Mid Atlantic referred to the many other complains about erroneous citations issued by Optotraffic cameras in the past, complaints which have been disregarded by county officials.

We have previously reported how some municipalities using Optotraffic cameras appear to have taken shortcuts in the operation of their cameras, filling in logs on days operators were apparently not working.  StopBigBrotherMD.org has also previously argued that if certain claims by Optotraffic and county officials are taken at face value, then no meaningful inspection of citations could possibly be taking place.

National Camera News:

Albuquerque, New Mexico has joined the list of communities which has rejected photo enforcement at the ballot box.  In an October 4rth vote, 54% of the 40,000 people voting in the referendum said "NO" to the question asking "Shall the Albuquerque City Council continue authorizing the 'safe traffic operations program,' commonly called the 'red light camera program'?"

The Albuquerque measure was placed on the ballot by a .  The company which runs the red light camera program on the other hand invented a grass roots "Astroturf" campaign supporting the camera program, with Redflex spending $142,050 on a group(the group's entire budget) called "SafeRoads Albuquerque" which sent out mass mailings designed to look like they came from a 'Grass roots' organization. Redflex reportedly changed the name of the group to reveal its relationship to the organization after it was threatened with an ethics complaint.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Forest Heights Speed Camera Defendant Arrested For Asserting Innocence

A defendant in a recent Forest Height speed camera hearing was ordered to be arrested and held in contempt of court for asserting his innocence.  (This post was updated on 10/15/2011.  Please see the courtroom recording added to the end).
The case was heard on Friday September 23rd in Prince George's County district court, more than a year after the citation had been issued.  The defendant was described by several courtroom observers (both defendants and some who were not there to fight citations) as an African American man who had an apparent disability or injury and required two canes for support to walk. His defense was based on the fact that when traveling South on Indian Head Highway entering from Livingston Road, there are no '35mph' signs between the intersection and the camera location.  (StopBigBrotherMD.org has confirmed using Google Street View that it is possible to drive south on I210 towards the cameras without seeing any 35mph speed limit signs, and that on that route the first sign one would see -- which is visible from the location of the cameras enforcing a 35mph limit-- is a 40mph sign located immediately past the camera.)  This defendant and/or others had apparently presented this claim to the town previously, but rather than correct the signage problem Forest Heights chose instead to stand their ground on the signage and come to court with a photo of the 35mph sign located at Aubrey lane, which is located 1/3 mile north of the camera.  There are at least 2 places one can enter route 210 without passing that 35mph sign (a fact the city reportedly did not mention).  After seeing this Judge Gerard Devlin pronounced the defendant guilty, but the defendant wanted to present the rest of his evidence : "After saying I was not guilty, and wanted to talk about my route home that didn't include Aubrey Lane, and that I come down Livingston Terrace and make a right at Livingston Road, and then a left on Indian Head Highway. I had pictures to show that there were no 35 mph signs on that segment of Livingston RD either. He didn't give me this opportunity. He said if I said another word, he would find me in contempt. I said why can't - he said "I find you in contempt - handcuff him and lock him up." I didn't say another word. I was humiliated and embarrassed. The guard was coming with the handcuffs, when I rose from my seat. He noticed that I walked with two canes, and said the handcuffs were not necessary"  ... "The guard walked me to a back room and asked for all  my items except my clothes and shoes. I was taken to a cell that had a bench and a toilet. After I sat down, my canes were taken. "  He was released later the same day.

This incident is the first report StopBigBrotherMD.org has received in over 3 years of reporting of a defendant being arrested or held in contempt over a Maryland speed camera ticket.

Judge Devlin is the same judge who recently made a ruling that defendants could not use citation images to exonerate themselves even if the time-stamped images showed the vehicles were not traveling the recorded speed, even though other judges had previously ruled otherwise.  That decision (which involved a different defendant than the individual in the contempt case), was widely publicized and distributed by Optotraffic and some local speed camera programs which use Optotraffic cameras.

The town issuing the citation disputed in the hearing, Forest Heights, issued over $3million worth of citations in fiscal year 2011, compared with the town's entire budget of $1.7million prior to introducing speed cameras.  Optotraffic(a dicision of Sigma Space Corporation) builds, owns, maintains, and processes violations from the cameras, scheduling court hearings (something which in this and other cases it took them over a year to do), and has been sending a marketing executive to act as an 'expert witness' at those hearings.  Optotraffic receives a percentage cut of the town's ticket revenue, and has a similar arrangement with several other local governments in the area as well as a newly activated speed camera contract with Prince George's County.

Stop Big Brother Maryland often gets information about speed camera hearings from defendants and courtroom observers which we can investigate further.  Anyone with information about interesting 'speed camera day' events should please report them to StopBigBrotherMD@gmail.com.

This posting was originally posted on 9/27 and was updated on 10/1/11 after we received additional information from the defendant.
Google street view shows no 35mph speed limit signage proceeding camera as seen from Livingston Rd Intersection, click to enlarge
Google Street View shows that a 40mph sign can be seen from the camera site, the camera enforces a 35mph limit, click to enlarge
Signage on Indian Head Highway, click to enlarge

Update 10/15/2011: We have obtained the audio recording of the court hearing.  In the recording you can hear Judge Devin order the defendant, James Bradford (a 71 year old poet), put into handcuffs and threaten him with 6 months in jail for asserting that he was not speeding.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Damascus Resident Beat Workzone Camera Ticket

Ridge Road speed limit sign placed far from the side of the road
In an August 29 court hearing an attorney from Damascus successfully beat a speed camera ticket issued by Montgomery County at 27000 block of Ridge Road in Damascus.  

Mr Layer made several points in his defense relating to the restrictions on both 'residential zone' speed cameras and workzone speed cameras under state law.  In addition, he also argued that, based on the speed camera photos, that it was a construction zone, which could clearly be seen, which could have obstructed signage and arguably made the site a 'workzone speed camera' which is only permitted on highways with speed limits of 40mph or greater.  It was notable that after the lanes were shifted for the construction the sign for the 30mph speed limit was located 20 feet away from the side of the road where it was no longer clearly visible and could easily have been concealed by construction signage or equipment at any given time.  The speed limit on ridge road is 40mph a short distance from the cameras.

In a March story in the Gazette, Captain Tom Didone, head of the Montgomery County Police Department Traffic Division, agreed Mr Layer 'had a point on the signs' and conceded that one of the signs had been removed by the company doing the construction.  "I want to personally thank the gentleman for bringing that to our attention." Captain Didone stated to the Gazette.

In court, the county claimed that the machines are inspected by police daily and that the device had been re-calibrated to target vehicles in the shifted lanes, however they provided no documentation to prove such a recalibration took place.  Despite these daily inspections, nobody noticed the problems with the signage.

The Gazette reported that the county gave them the following number of citations issued from these cameras in each of 2010 and 2011:
-January-February 2010 — 1,381
-January-February 2011 — 1,586
This shows that the camera issuing the ticket in this location saw a 14.8% increase in citations from January 2010 to January 2011 (after the signage was changed), whereas the normal trend is for citations to decrease at fixed pole cameras as local residents learn about the camera locations.

The county willing turned over that data to a newspaper which is generally friendly to their positions.  However Mr Layer stated to us that he had requested discovery and filed a Maryland Public information Act request (Maryland's equivalent to the Freedon of Information Act) with Montgomery County for information he sought for defense against his $40 ticket, and the county demanded a more than $1000 payment for access to those public records.  He stated that was unable to spend the time contesting the $1000 fee in court.   

By the way, StopBigBrotherMD.org is still waiting for Montgomery County to provide an explanation for the >$43,000 fee they demanded before they would even begin to look for records (involving  an unrelated situation) which we requested under the MPIA in January.  One might ask whether the county's fee structure for public record requests is inversely proportionate to how friendly the requester is to the county's position?

The county claims that only 25 citations were overturned in court last year, however only a tiny percentage of the $40 tickets are ever contested.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Millions Drive to Work on World Car-Free Day

Yesterday, September 22nd, was designated as "World Car Free Day".  9000 people pledged to walk, bike, use mass transit, work from home or find other alternatives to cars (most of whom already did so at on a regular basis).  However for most of the millions of other commuters in the region and the tens of millions in the US who drive to work every day, the day passed without notice, and with no discernible difference in the number of cars  on the road or levels of traffic congestion.

Perhaps World Car day provides an opportunity to ponder how much the automobile has improved the quality of life for so many.

A 2005 US Census bureau data showed that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans drive to work. Only 4.7% take public transit and about 2.5% walk to work.  Why is that?  Some would have the public believe that driving is a matter of laziness or lack of  concern for the environment.  Those who NEED cars know that is not true.  We drive because cars offer us the freedom of mobility that no other form of transportation can, and our decisions to choose cars over other options are driven by extremely practical concerns.  This author personally sometimes enjoys taking alternate transportation to work, sometimes including a 10 mile run which is awesome when it is possible.  But as a practical reality that is limited only to those times when personal and profession obligations, the weather, health, and other constraints all cooperate to make that possible.  Like so many mass transit is not a practical option... I need to walk over a mile to the closest bus stop and that will only take me to the metro station 6 miles away.  By the time that's done I've spent almost an hour longer than a car would take on my worst traffic day.  Telecommuting does not allow me to attend in-person meetings that are expected of me almost every day.  And how am I to drop the kids off at daycare with any of those options?  No, most people NEED cars to keep up with the modern, fast paced lives we have come to expect and which are expected of us by our employers who make up the nation's economy and pay our bills.

A salute to the automobile, our indispensable friend
Consider what would it be like if you were *forced* to be "Car Free".  What would you need to give up?  Would you be able to live and work where you choose, or would you be limited to only home/work choices either very near each other or only near 'government approved' mass transit sites?  If you own a house now, would you surrender the dream of owning a home in a safe, affordable area of your choosing in exchange for living in concrete termite mounds crowded around metro sites?  Would you be able to take your kids to the daycare center or school **of your choosing** in the morning and still get to work on time?  And when they're older how are you getting them to that soccer match or softball game?  Could you actually run that important errand during the day if you had to walk, or figure out bus schedules or mooch a ride? Maybe, but maybe not. Then there's all the services provided to you by car, whether you drive yourself or not.  Could the cable guy or plumber really hike all his gear on the bus?  And then there are the less tangibles.  Would you still have the freedom to wake up on Sunday an say 'Let's go to the mountains!' and just go?  Or, if your parents live in a rural area out of state, would they ever see their grand kids?  Oh such a crass concern that Grandma might get to hug little Timmy from time to time... but for many this is a thing made possible by CARS!

We propose that Car Free Day is a reminder to say a big THANK YOU to the automotive pioneers who made this freedom possible.  And we should be thankful that we live in a world where we do not need to be "free" of a thing which brings every bit as much value to our lives as electric lights, telephones, and running water.

Automobiles are THE essential transportation for many people.  They are the life-blood of our transportation system and our economy.  When you hear someone say "driving is not a right it is a privilege" BEWARE!  That person wants to use an absolutely essential "privileged" to coerce you into accepting some reduction your constitutional rights.  Your right to due process, right to face an accuser, and right to be presumed innocent may not seem urgently important to you right here right now, at least not as important as getting to work on time.  The proverbial 'they' know that, and they know you're willing to give up a 'right' for the sake of the 'privileged' of getting to work and keeping your job.  Don't fall for that.  If cars are essential to your 'pursuit of happiness', then you should demand that your elected officials understand that you do not concede any of your legal and constitutional rights while you are on those roads.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PG County Cameras Now Live

Prince George's County's new speed camera program is now going live and now issuing tickets.  The initially selected locations are as follows:
File Photo of an Optotraffic Camera
8400-9000 block(s) of Allentown Road
9000-9200 blocks of Muirkirk Road
5700-6300 blocks of Ager Road
7600-6900 blocks of Adelphi Road
9400-9700 blocks of Temple Hill Road
6900-7400 blocks of Walker Mill Road
9100-10000 blocks of Ardwick Ardmore Road
6800-7100 blocks of High Bridge Road
1800-2400 Owens Road
2100-2600 blocks of Sansbury Road
11600-11900 blocks of Old Baltimore Pike
5400-6100 blocks of Sargeant Road
6700-7100 blocks of Columbia Park Road
2100-2400 County Road
9800-9900 blocks of Good Luck Road
9800-10000 blocks of Allentown Road
8300-8600 Contee Road
2200-2500 blocks of Ritchie Road
800-1100 blocks of Hill Road
000-800 blocks of Harry S. Truman Drive
6100-6400 blocks of Auth Road
2000-2300 blocks of Church Road
500-1100 blocks of Brightseat Road
4600-5600 blocks of Brinkley Road
5000-5300 blocks of Marlboro Pike

Tickets will be issued M-Fr 6am-8pm.  The cameras provided by the camera contractor, Optotraffic (a division of Sigma Space Corporation), are housed in a small trailer which is mobile.  New locations can thus be added at any time, including locations which might only recently have been designated as "school zones" specifically for the purpose of adding cameras.  No "warning period" will be required for new locations.  PG county has considered adding as many as 72 speed camera locations, including some locations not previously designated as school zones.  The county signed the contract with Optotraffic earlier this year and selected the initial 'school zone' locations from a list of proposed locations which included both existing school zones and locations never previously designated or marked as school zones.

Tickets will go to the owners of vehicles (not necessarily the driver) who are accused of  traveling 12mph over the posted speed cameras.  However speed cameras do sometimes issue tickets in error.  Optotraffic cameras in particular are of a proprietary design that works entirely unlike traditional police radar or lidar.  A number of drivers have independently asserted that they received erroneous citations from these types of cameras in Brentwood, Cheverly, Forest Heights, College Park, and other locations.

Recipients of questionable citations can either pay the $40 fine like a good compliant sheeple and encourage further negligence on the part of the government and contractors who run speed cameras, or they can request a court hearing.  In some cases people challenging Optotraffic speed camera tickets from Forest Heights have had to weight over a year to receive hearings (Optotraffic has been permitted by the court to schedule court hearings, giving them some control over the timing and setting of court hearings).  Some successfully had their citations overturned.  In ther cases judges accepted  the word of Optotraffic (a company paid based on the number of tickets issued) that essentially there is no evidence the court can accept to challenge the accuracy of the speed measurement and exonerate a driver who believes himself to be innocent -- worse than "Guilty until proven innocent" you are "Guilty even if innocent".  Those who have complaints or concerns should direct them to state and county elected officials who voted for speed cameras rather than to police or the camera contractor.  Officials in agencies which run speed cameras are required to implement and support policies which are set by elected officials.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

DC Getting 19 New Speed Cameras

DC police have activated 19 new speed camera sites in the District along major commuter routes.  The new locations are:
  • 1900 block of Independence Avenue SE east bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • Military Road 0.2 miles west of the 16th Street ramp NW southwest bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • Military Road 0.1 miles prior to 17th Street NW northeast bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • 1700 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE northeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1800 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 4000 block of East Capitol Street NE west bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • 4000 block of East Capitol Street SE east bound - speed limit 35 mph
  • 800 block of Ridge Road SE southeast bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 600 block of Southern Avenue SE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1400 block of Southern Avenue SE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1900 block of Branch Avenue SE north bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 1900 block of Branch Avenue SE south bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 1100 block of Bladensburg Road NE northeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 1100 block of Bladensburg Road NE southwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 200 block of 19th Street SE north bound - speed limit 25 mph
  • 4800 block of Connecticut Avenue NW northwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 4900 block of Connecticut Avenue NW southeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 600 block of Missouri Avenue NW northwest bound - speed limit 30 mph
  • 600 block of Missouri Avenue NW southeast bound - speed limit 30 mph
A 30 day 'warning period' began Sept 1 in order to alert local drivers to the new cameras before they begin ticketing out of town drivers in earnest.  Unlike Maryland, the District does not specifically state any 'threshold' over the speed limit above which tickets are issued, so technically they could issue tickets for 1mph over in order to meet whatever revenue goals they have. 

The nation's capital has one of the most extensive photo enforcement systems in the world, which includes not only numerous speed cameras and red light cameras, but also cameras deployed on street sweepers to enforce parking violations, and last year new cameras for enforcing violations such as 'blocking the box', 'rolling right turns' and stopping slightly past the white line.   TheNewspaper.com reports that as of 5/30/2010 DC's ticket cameras had issued $312million worth of tickets since the program's inception.  District red light and speed cameras issued approximately $50million worth of tickets in FY11 alone.

Is it "for safety" or "Municipal Extortion" (as one Washington Post writer recently put it)?  You decide.