Friday, January 28, 2011

Baltimore County Speed Camera Report Shows No Reduction In Accidents



Baltimore County Police claimed that a report on the County's Speed Camera Program showed the program was a success, even though the report stated that there has been no reduction in accidents since the cameras were installed.

When comparing accidents within 1/4 mile of the camera sites, the report called the results "inconclusive": "Six of the 15 locations had more traffic accidents in 2010 compared to prior years, and eight of the 15 locations had fewer traffic accidents in 2010 compared to prior years. One location had the same number of traffic accidents." and that "Camera locations averaged 31 accidents per site before and after they went on-line.

When looking at just the area immediately at the camera sites, within 1/8th mile the report concluded that :"no difference exists in the number of accidents before/after camera implementation.  Eight locations had more accidents after the camera went on-line, and five locations had fewer accidents. Two locations had no change in the number of accidents. Camera locations averaged 9 accidents per site before and after they went on-line. "

The reports stated that the county had issued 53,000 and collected on 35,427, generating $1.4million in revenue.  Of that amount, $1.1million went to the county's contractor: ACS State and Local Solutions.

County police declared the program a success on the grounds the number of citations dropped after the first few weeks of the program, even though the drop in citations was not accompanied by any reduction in accidents whatsoever.  The number of speed camera citations increased from zero before the program started (obviously), to a peak of over 4000 citations per week in July 2010, so if the program goal is now presumed to be reducing the number of citations issued then by that measure the program was an utter failure from the beginning.

Baltimore County is currently considering a bill to authorize an unlimited number of new camera sites.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Baltimore Cameras Erroneously Flag Thousands of Tags

You think they've got enough cameras at this spot yet?
WBAL TV Reported that Baltimore City erroneously flagged the vehicle registrations of 8000 drivers who were awaiting hearings for red light camera tickets.  One driver wrote that he had requested a hearing because the light was still yellow when he entered the intersection and received .  After15 months he had still received no hearing date, and instead received a notice that his registration had been flagged.  "I just want justification and due process" he stated.

WBAL contacted the MVA and the City of Baltimore and confirmed that the City had incorrectly notified the MVA to flag thousands of registrations.  The MVA stated that they have now removed the flags.  Drivers who believe they may have been one of the 8000 affected drivers can call the MVA go to the MVA website (www.mva.maryland.gov) and search under your vehicle information to ensure the flag was removed.  According to the report, Baltimore City officials could provide no explanation for why it took more than 15 months to provide court hearings.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Forest Heights Speed Camera Investigation Part I: Indian Head Highway Robbery

Indian Highway Robbery: Images Expose Speed Measurement Errors
Earlier it was reported that the accuracy of the speed cameras deployed by Forest Heights on Indian Head Highway (state highway 210) has been questioned and that local residents were claiming that they were ticketing innocent drivers.  We have received more details on exactly what those questions were based on, including citation photos which appear to show many cases where speed cameras in Forest Heights cited vehicles for speeds far in excess of the speeds the citation images indicate.

First, let's talk a little bit about how Forest Height's speed cameras work.  The devices are a proprietary design by Optotraffic, a division of Sigma Space Corporation.  These cameras are neither radar (like most cameras used in Montgomery County) nor are they exactly like traditional police LIDAR.   We didn't have much (or rather any) luck getting technical information from Forest Heights.  However another we were lucky enough to obtain the technical specifications for Optotraffic's cameras that are used in Brentwood WHICH YOU CAN SEE HERE.

To simplify it, Optotraffic’s cameras work by taking two laser sensors into each lane of traffic.  The device 'record the time when each sensor detected the object.'  The speed is then calculated as 'Measured Speed = Distance/Time'.  If a vehicle is determined to be exceeding a predefined threshold speed, a short distance/period of time later the device snaps two photos a fraction of a second apart. 

So why would someone think the devices are inaccurate?  Well, because MANY people have gotten tickets from Forest Heights for speeds they KNOW they were not traveling at.  Some of them performed their own distance/time calculations from the citation images which produced an extremely different speed than what they were cited for.

Speed camera images are typically taken a few tenths of a second apart, so the distances traveled are fairly short (tens of feet).  Getting exact distances from photos can be difficult, so it is hard to convincingly prove the speed measurement was in error unless it was off by a large amount.  If the speed camera was off by say 5mph then proving yourself innocent this way would be hard (and proving yourself innocent is exactly what you would be required to do in court).   Assuming large errors are sporadic (as opposed to a device which always produced an incorrect result), any one specific person would be unlikely to get enough citations with extremely large errors in order to prove there is was a pattern.

"Fortunately" a local business owner, Will Foreman of Eastover Auto Supply in Oxon Hill, maintains a small fleet of vehicles that must drive up and down Indian Head Highway in Forest Heights several times per day and as a result was “lucky” enough to receive a large number of citations for that fleet.  He later discovered that other enraged citizens had also received questionable tickets.  Many of the photos clearly show the speed measurements are much higher than the distances traveled between the citation images would images.

The formula for distance traveled between frames would be : 
  Feet Traveled =  (MilePerHour * (5280 ft/Mile) / (3600 s/Minute))  * photo_interval
The citation images below were all found to have a photo interval of 0.363 seconds between frames according to the timestamps on the images.  Our first citation stated the vehicle was traveling at 56 MPH
Example 1: Image #1
Example 1: Image #2
That works out to 56 *5280/3600 * 0.363 = 29.1844 feet.  By superimposing the vehicle from the second image over the first, you can see the distance traveled:
Example 1: Both Images
The length of this pickup is about 16 feet., meaning the truck should have traveled 1.82 truck-lengths (or 1 length + another 13.18 feet) to move at this speed.  IT IS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO THAT DISTANCE.  We've added guidelines to compare the image, showing that the distance is 1 length + the gap between the front and back of the two truck images.  That gap is much less than half a truck-length. We estimate this to be less than 4 feet based on the size of the wheel-wells.  That would work out to a total distance of less than 20 feet, which given the interval of 0.363s would be just under 38mph.  This indicates an error of 18mph, and speed 9mph below the threshold for issuing speed camera tickets under state law (47mph in this case).

Our second example is even more obvious.  This truck was measured by the device to be traveling 65 mph on 7/28/2010.
Example 2: Image#1
Example 2: Image#2
As such should have traveled 34.606 feet, which given this vehicle's length of no more than 16 feet it it should have traveled at least 2.1 truck-lengths.  Superimposing those two images, you can see that this distance is not even close that distance.
Example 2: Both Images
In fact, the front of the vehicle in the first image is almost perfectly lined up with the back of the truck in the second frame, meaning the vehicle only traveled about 16 feet.  That gives us a vehicle speed of:
16ft/0.363s)*(3600s/hr)/(5280ft/mi) = 29.88MPH
It would seem that even driving 5mph below the speed limit might not get you past these speed cameras without a fine.

Another example which took place on 09/09/2010 showed a van which was clocked at 51 mph and therefore should have traveled 27.15 feet. 
Example 3: Both Images
This van is about 17 feet long so it should have traveled 10 feet longer than one length based on the recorded speed.  As you can see, the front of the first superimposed van image is almost aligned with the back of the second van image.  The van couldn't have traveled more than one or two feet more than one van-length, placing its speed right around 35MPH, a difference of close to 16 mph compared to the recorded speed.

Optotraffic statement to the Gazette was that their cameras "accurately measure vehicle speed within .5 mph below speeds of 55 miles per hour".  Well if they said that it must be true, right?

Example 4: Both Images
But the most compelling image is this one, dated 7/22/2010, showing both an Auto Value truck and a Metro bus. CLICK HERE FOR A LARGER VIEW.  The citation charged this pickup truck with traveling 76 miles per hour.  The 0.363 photo-interval means the vehicle should have traveled 40.46 feet which is more than 2.5 truck-lengths.  The super-imposed images clearly shows the actual distance to be a little more than ONE truck length, less than 20 feet total... not even half the distance it should have traveled at 76mph. (We note that the bus in the right lane traveled a bit over half its length, and this would also have been well under 40.46 feet.  So while one could consider whether this one was possibly a matter of incorrect lane assignment, even if that were the case the bus was also traveling much less than 76mph.)

Mr. Foreman hung this last photo in his shop for some time to protest “Indian Head Highway Robbery”.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Driver Wins Ticket Challenge, State Says Pay Up or Else

Not long ago we reported on a driver who, believing he was issued a ticket in error by the Maryland SafeZones program, successfully fought his citation in court.  In the process, he uncovered a report documenting that the type of speed camera used by the state has a known software defect which can result in speeding violations being assigned to the wrong vehicle.  He never had the chance to present all of the extensive evidence he collected because the citation was dismissed for other reasons first.  He walked out of court on January 4rth with no fines or court costs.  End of story, right?  Nope!  Two week later on January 18 he received  an "OVERDUE NOTICE" in the mail for the very same ticket he had successfully challenged, threatening him with additional penalties if he did not pay.

The notice states:
"On 10/28/2010, a Work Zone Speed Monitoring System Citation was mailed to you.  Your failure to pay or contest liability by 11/27/2010, the date stated on the Citation, is an admission of liability and the civil penalty of $40.00 is past due.  The failure to pay this past due obligation may result in the suspension of the motor vehicle registration and/or may result in the refusal to register the motor vehicle.  On 02/11/2011, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) will place a flag on our vehicle's record and withhold the renewal application for your vehicle registration pending full satisfaction of all fines and costs, which will include an additional $30.00 administrative flag fee per citation."

Apparently the state of Maryland is a sore loser.

The ticket recipient was not pleased, having already expended considerable effort successfully(he thought) challenging a ticket, which he says was issued when both his cruise control and his GPS had shown his speed was far below the speed recorded on the ticket.  "If this isn't harassment and black mail then I don't know what is."  he wrote to us in an email "My cost of fighting a wrongly issued ticket of $40 has exceeded $500.  Why should I continue to suffer and waste my money and time because of their mistakes?"   That's a very good question.

We previously reported that in Forest Heights drivers who requested hearings for speed camera tickets kept getting late notices with additional penalties and threats to suspend their registration weeks after requesting a court hearing.  We've also received reports from drivers who received tickets from Baltimore City which showed another person's vehicle, and weeks or months after the city told them the tickets were taken care of they got late penalty notices.  If you've had similar experiences please contact us.

Wicomico County Decides Against Speed Cameras

The Wicomico County Council has reportedly ended debate on using speed cameras near schools at its Tuesday January 18th meeting.  The council members voted 5-1 against introducing a bill to authorize speed cameras.

Speed cameras are already in use in Fruitland, Maryland in Wicomico County, and both Princess Anne and Salisbury have been considering getting speed cameras.  Wicomico could also reintroduce the legislation at a later date.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Speed Cameras To Be Used In Trappe

The town of Trappe, Maryland(Talbot County) is considering an ordinance to use speed cameras. The plan is to have RedSpeed provide the cameras in exchange for a $15 cut of each citation, with the town collecting the other $25.

The story on WBOC indicates that approval of the cameras is extremely likely since all members of the town council (listed here http://trappemd.net/contacts.html) plan to vote for the ordinance.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Technical Glitch May Cause Errors in Some Cameras

A recently released report exposed a software defect in a certain model of LIDAR(laser) based speed camera which can cause errors, including potentially assigning violations to the wrong vehicle.

The issues was discovered by the recipient of a Maryland ‘SafeZones’ speed camera citation.  The recipient of the ticket stated that he specifically recalled the incident when he saw the camera and that his cruise control had been set to substantially lower than the speed shown on the citation, and that he recalled this was confirmed by both his GPS and the mobile speed trailer sign at that location as being far below the speed on the citation he received. 

The driver said he spent enormous amount of time researching the matter.   He obtained the annual calibration certificate, daily setup logs, and operating manual** from the SHA though a public information request, which showed that the speed camera was a VITRONIC Poliscan.
[**CENSORED!!!! VITRONIC has forced the site where the operating manual was being kept online to pull it under threat of legal action.  That manual describes various ways citation images can be "Not Valid As Evidence", possibly indicating errors. They do not want you to see this stuff or use it in your legal defense!!!]

One thing he noticed early on was that the calibration certificate was issued by VITRONIC.  This seemed inappropriate because Maryland law states that “(6) (i) A work zone speed control system shall undergo an annual calibration check performed by an independent calibration laboratory. “, and that the manufacture could hardly be described as “independent”.  We note that the SHA’s speed camera contractor mentions the Vitronic Poliscan in their sales material and states “IACP cannot test Scanning LIDAR”(International Association of Chiefs of Police).

The driver eventually discovered that the Poliscan devices had been the subject of accuracy questions in Germany where they are built and where they are commonly used.  The driver then discovered a study, released in December 2010 and performed by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Lahn-Dill(Germany),  which revealed that a defect did in fact exist in certain versions of the software deployed on VITRONIC Poliscan sytems.

The full report, which you can read here, is written in German.  However we have created a (machine) translation of the text which you can read in English.

The problem results from the fact that the Poliscan speed camera does not take photos a fixed amount of time after speed measurements are taken.  Under certain circumstances, the delay can be long enough for the triggering vehicle to move a substantial distance, even entirely off the frame.  While normally this would simply result in no citation being issued.  But if you happened to be traveling in the same direction as a speeding vehicle, you are S.O.L. : “This is [at] first unproblematic, if there is nothing to evaluate. Differently however [is] the situation, if then nevertheless coincidentally another vehicle of the same driving direction is so unfavorably in the proximity that the protractor on the front of this vehicle is illustrated. Then erroneously the measured value is assigned to this vehicle.

The report noted that the Poliscan’s self tests would NOT detect whether such errors took place: “if with a PoliScanspeed - measuring instrument a camera function defect arises - this can remain unidentified despite equipment self-monitoring with devices with the software-Version 1.5.3”.  The lag between the speed measurement and the photos is not recorded on citation images, thus an innocent driver receiving such a citation would have no evidence to prove such an error occurred.  Worse yet would be if the speeding vehicle had moved all the way out of frame, there would be nothing to indicate to a citation approver that the violation was assigned to the wrong vehicle (and that assumes such reviews are not simply rubber stamps, an assumption which is highly questionable).

A software fix has been apparently been built to mitigate the problem, although it is unknown whether it completely eliminates it or how many machines have not yet been updated.  The calibration certificate for the SHA camera provided by our source showed that it was dated in May 2010, prior to the creation of the software fix. Thus even if the software fix had already been applied on this particular machine, the devices could not have been certified to be properly calibrated since the change.

The Safezones program had reported issued over 300,000 citations as of November 30, 2010.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Chevy Chase Village Shifts Expenses to Avoid Camera Fund Restrictions

We previously reported on Chevy Chase Village's Speed camera fund budget, which seemed to be shifting resources to speed camera program 'expenses' in order to circumvent a restriction in state law which limits the amount of speed camera revenue "after expenses" which a local government can collect to 10% of their total budget. Any excess beyond 10% is supposed to go to the state.  Any revenue supposed to be spent on "public safety", however this term is not defined.

The Gazette reported in November on a specific list of salaries worth $334,000 which are now paid for out of speed camera funds as expenses of the program.  The list included 100% of the salaries for 2 police officers and 1 police corporal, 33% of a 'police staff' member, and 25% of the police chief's $128,544 salary.  The list also included :
  • Village manager, $109,824 annual salary, 25 percent paid by Safe Speed Funds ($27,456)
  • Finance director, $78,332.80 annual salary, 25 percent paid by Safe Speed Funds ($19,583.2)
  • Director of Municipal Operations, $78,332.80 annual salary, 67 percent paid by Safe Speed Funds ($19583)
Apparently these three employees are now either "program expenses" or "public safety".  The shift was apparently made only recently: "Until last year, portions of salaries that are now paid for by the Safe Speed Fund were paid for by the tax base." wrote the Gazette.  The Village claims that "the decision was made because those employees had begun dedicating a greater portion of their work day to Safe Speed Fund-related issues".  This increasing need for labor support for the program is despite the fact that the number of citations issued declined from FY2009 to FY 2010.  It is curious that they require substantially more labor to process fewer tickets.  The Chevy Chase also stated 'the village has more public safety projects' that they need to oversee.

We previously reported how the Village creatively interpreted the requirement that funds only be used for 'public safety' to include items such as a Segway, a new office for the police chief, a locker room, copy machines, and new cable TV conduits.

The Gazette now reports that the Village is considering funding an additional $400,000 of its police budget out of the Safe Speed funds, meaning a total of 60% of the town's police will now be run of of the speed camera program.  This has provoked a minor controversy on in the town's leadership.  The Village Manager and the Village treasurer support using SafeSpeed funds to close the town's gaping budget hole, but others were unsure.  Board member Patricia Baptiste expressed reservations, and was quoted by the Gazette saying "I think Safe Speed money is the crack cocaine of local government."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Legislation to Limit Freeway Workzone Cameras Proposed

Senator Jim Brochin(D) has stated that he wants to reintroduce legislation that would limit the use of freeway speed cameras only to workzones where workers are actually present.  Current state law, passed in 2009, permits workzone speed cameras 'regardless of whether workers are present' and in fact the SHA is using them in that way.

Brochin and several other lawmakers proposed this change last year, one which we support.  The rationale is that under current law a workzone might be kept in place indefinitely if it is profitable to do so, or worse yet a . This might seem unlikely except when you consider the fact that many local governments have been creating vast new school zones solely for the purpose of creating 'school zone' speed cameras... setting up 'two cones and a camera' is not much different.  It is also notable that some of the workzones speed cameras are enforcing reduced speed limits, 5 or 10mph below what it was marked at before work began.  This is also similar to what has taken place with some local governments' school zone speed cameras, where speed limits were lowered when cameras were added.

We view this change as a necessary step to prevent speed cameras from being abused as a revenue source.  The SHA has reported issuing 311,345 citations, worth $12.4 million, from October 2009 through November 30, 2010 from just 6 camera sites and the number of sites is expected to be expanded in the future.  The majority of citations have been issued at sites where the speed limit is reduced.  Worker safety is obviously not an issue if workers are not present.  In fact it is questionable whether the speed cameras have had ANY effect on safety:  the only safety benefit the SHA has reported so far from has been a small reduction in average vehicle speeds (ie they did not claim a reduction in accidents), which is the same amount of speed reduction that the SHA's own study attributed to the use of radar speed display signs which do NOT issue tickets.  It so happens that such 'Your Speed' signs are in fact in use at the workzones where the speed cameras are used, meaning any reduction in average speeds could be entirely attributed to the use of those signs.

This legislation (Senate Bill 30) must pass the Judicial Proceedings Committee in order for the full senate to consider it.  You can Contact the Judicial Proceedings Committee if you wish to express your support for this legislation.

We expect other legislation will be introduced to remove restrictions on speed cameras.  In fact last year that's exactly what happened: this proposed change never made it out of committee, and instead legislation to permit College Park to run cameras 24/7 and reducing the amount of oversight the creation of new school zones receives was quietly passed instead.  The only thing that prevents this is if state lawmakers know you are watching.  You can find your state lawmakers HERE to inform them that you support this legislation and believe we need more, not fewer restrictions on the use of speed cameras.