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, 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.