Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Optotraffic, Local Governments "Circle the Wagons" to Protect Cash Cow

Optotraffic and various local government clients have launched a coordinated legal and public relations blitz to protect their profitable camera program from claims of errors and other improprieties.  Meanwhile, officials in Prince George's County are attempting to enforce an interpretation of the law which denies drivers the right to use photographic evidence to exonerate themselves, makes the mere accusation by a machine unquestionable proof of guilt, renders the review of citations by police meaningless, and would ensure that for all practical purposes a defendant cannot challenge the accuracy of a camera in court.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

National News: Houston City Council Yields on Camera Referendum

The Houston City Council has yielded to public pressure and is once again switching off their red light camera program.  The voters rejected the cameras last year in a referendum and the cameras were switched off for several months.  However the City arranged to lose a lawsuit filed by the camera vendor challenging the public vote, in which the petition supporters were not permitted to participate.  The city turned the cameras back on sparking loud protests from the public.  The city council has now reversed its position, voting 14-1 to repeal the ordinance granting American Traffic Solutions the right to issue photo tickets.

Optotraffic Representative Caught Speeding

Public records reveal that the senior official and spokesperson for Lanham-based Optotraffic was recently issued a speeding ticket for traveling 15mph over the legally posted speed limit.

The Baltimore City court record shows Mickey E Shepherd was issued the ticket on 4/06/2011 at 3:38pm by an officer in the MD Transportation Authority Tunnel Command for traveling at the dangerous speed of 70mph in his red Nissan with license plate #6CXT98.  Mr Shepherd plead guilty to the charge and was given "probation before judgement" on 6/10/2011, which normally means that the defendant receives no points and the violation may be stricken from their driving record.  The record shows he was ordered to paid a fine of $70 plus court costs.

Mr Shepherd is the Senior Account Manager handling Optotraffic's speed camera contracts including those in Prince George's County, College Park, and Forest Heights.  He frequently appears at local government hearings and media/public relations events speaking about the dangers of speeding while selling speed camera services.

Mr Shepherd has also been appearing as an 'expert witness' at speed camera hearings of defendants who received tickets from Optotraffic cameras located in Prince George's County municipalities.  In those cases he often presents testimony about the technical workings of the devices, even though his primary role in the company is marketing and public relations, without being required to document or prove his claims.  Under its speed camera contracts, Optotraffic receives a percentage cut of every citation to build, deploy, maintain, and also processes and mails violation from cameras.  Optotraffic has also been permitted by the Prince George's County Court system to schedule court hearings.  This gives the company substantial control over the chain of evidence submitted at hearings and also the time and circumstances in which court hearings are held.  As a result the company has some ability to influence the outcome of speed camera court hearings in which they have a substantial financial, marketing, and public relations stake.  The Prince George's County government now shares that stake, as they have recently initiated a multi-million dollar a year speed camera program utilizing Optotraffic cameras.

Mr Shepherd did not respond to an emailed request for comment about this speeding offense after more than 24 hours.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Baltimore City Councilwoman Calls for Repeal of Speed Cameras

Baltimore City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway(D, District 7) has proposed legislation to end the use of speed cameras in Baltimore City.   Conaway argued that if the devices had been working correctly to reduce speeding then revenues from should have been declining, but this has not occurred.  "We can see that this is a safety measure that is not working.

Conaway proposed that the city department of transportation to look at "hotspot areas" and create "traffic calming measures" in those areas.  Other types of engineering traffic calming measures have been demonstrated to be at least as effective as speed cameras in controlling traffic speeds.

Conaway suggested that any city residents who wish to see speed cameras repealed need to let their council members know.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

AAA Says College Park Cameras "Flunk" Basic Standards

AAA Mid Atlantic held a press conference in College Park on August 17th at the speed camera on Metzerott Road, claiming that the camera "flunks" basic standards for accuracy and placement.   AAA pointed to the fact that the camera does not comply with SHA guidelines because it is placed in a 'speed transition zone', located 100 yards after a 10mph drop in the speed limit, and in the Westbound direction the drivers can clearly see the 40mph sign in front of them by the time they are passing the camera enforcing a 30mph limit.

In addition, AAA pointed to the case of a driver who received a citation from a college park camera who had a device electronically records the speed of his car, which indicated he was traveling far slower than the speed recorded on the citation and was not speeding at the time of the violation.  The driver's citation was dismissed in court on a technicality, with the judge refusing to rule one way or the other on the accuracy of the camera.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Frederick City Cameras bring in $216,000 in Four Weeks

Frederick City speed cameras issued 6,922 citations worth $216,000 in their first four weeks of operation.  The city had originally conservatively estimated $450,000 worth of revenue for an entire year.

Cameras are currently posted on Hayward Road, Opossomtown Pike, Butterfly Lane, North Market Street, and East Street, and the city reportedly plans to have a total of 18 cameras in use by the end of the year.  In June 2010 the city of Frederick had created a large number of new school zones specifically for the purpose of deploying "school zone" speed cameras.  Cities have had authority to designate and mark school zones within their boundaries for many years to alert drivers to the presence of schools and deploy other types of safety measures in those zones, but have only been authorized to deploy speed cameras in them since October 2009.

The city's contractor, ACS State and Local Solutions(a division of Xerox Corp) receives a fee of $3000 per month fee for each of the city's cameras, plus a $8.75 per ticket contingent fee.  A provision of state law which was supposed to ban paying speed camera contractors based on the number of citations has been successfully circumvented by nearly every speed camera program in the state by simply not using the word "operate" to describe what the contractor does, even if they control most aspects of the program and devices' functionality.  This demonstrates how all of the supposed restrictions on speed camera use are largely irrelevant to how they are actually implemented whenever there is a financial incentive for either the government or the contractor to sidestep those rules.

Lt Heatherton of the Frederick Police, who heads the city's camera program, stated to the Gazette that "I think I am the most hated man in Frederick these days".  In June the Frederick Post reported that two Frederick City speed cameras were destroyed by unknown individuals shortly after they went online.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Auto Insurance Industry Charges Maryland More Despite Increasing Camera Enforcement

Maryland drivers pay higher auto insurance premiums than drivers in most other states, and last year rates went up faster than in other states despite stricter enforcement of traffic laws which  insurance industry funded groups support.

In 2010 Insure.com website ranked Maryland as the 17th most expensive state for auto insurance, with an average rate of $1,550.13 compared to the national average of $1429.26.   In 2011 Maryland moved up to 10th most expensive on the list, with rates increasing substantially to $1807(compared to a national average of $1,561).  This was despite a tremendous expansion in the number and areas covered by cameras in 2010 which insurance industry funded groups have actively promoted.

Insure.com based their survey on the same insurance policy in each state with the same sample subject: a 40-year-old single male driver who commutes 12 miles to work, with policy limits of 100/300/50 and a $500 deductible on collision and comprehensive coverage.  Another insurance group, insweb.com, examined the median rate per state and found similar result: listing Maryland as #2 most expensive in 2011, moving up from 6th most expensive in 2010.

Insurance companies have promoted the use of photo enforcement nationwide by funding advocacy groups such as the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.  In 2010 Maryland saw new deployments of speed cameras on interstate highways, and new local speed camera programs in Baltimore County and numerous municipalities in Prince George's County, while Montgomery county approved an unlimited number of new speed camera sites.   This was in addition to the introduction of stricter traffic laws such as a new cell phone and texting bans.  In theory measures which improve safety should lower costs for insurance companies and translate into lower rates.  Yet as photo enforcement and other new restrictions on drivers were being implemented in Maryland our rates went up relative to other states.

DC, which has one of the most extensive speed and red light camera programs in the nation, performed similarly poorly in both rankings, coming out 6th most expensive in insweb's median cost ratings and 5th most expensive on insure.com's average cost rating for 2011. Next door Virginia, which has no speed cameras and only recently added red light cameras in a few cities, as which has comparable per-capita traffic fatality rates.  Virginia was listed by insure.com as the 9th least expensive state, with an average rate $570 lower than Maryland.   The 4 least expensive states for auto insurance according to either the average or median rankings have neither speeding nor red light cameras:
    Insure.com : Vermont, South Carolina, Maine, Wisconsin
    Insweb.com : Idaho,  Maine, Vermont, and North Dakota 
(states using speed and red light cameras based on data from the IIHS)