Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Next Stop, Stop Sign Cameras

photo from
The District of Columbia will be introducing a new type of automated enforcement for ticketing motorists who run stop signs, and one Maryland town is asking the Maryland Legislature to follow suit.

WTOP reports that 24 of the new cameras will "initially" start issuing tickets within the next few months, with citations costing $50.

DC already has cameras for speeding and red light running, including making rolling right turns on red, and has been making plans to use them for 'blocking the box' and 'failure to yield to pedestrians'.  They even have cameras attached to street sweepers enforcing parking violations for motorists who fail to move their cars during specified street sweeping hours.

It was recently reported that the Maryland town of Glen Echo has requested that the state legislature approve the use of stop sign cameras by the town.  The Town claimed that 81% of motorists were running a particular stop sign at Glen Echo park.  The criteria they used to get this statistic was not "stopping behind the white line and counting a full second".  This indicates that if stop sign cameras are deployed in Maryland as Glen Echo has requested, they would issue citations not only to people making 'rolling stops' at 1-2mph, but also to people who make full stops but slightly past the white line (which people often do so they can see into the intersection) and people who stop but for less than 1 second (which people often do because they have already confirmed there is no other vehicular or pedestrian traffic).

The town's acceptance of this statistic as justification for the cameras also implies that Mayor Beers believes that over 80% of people are 'dangerous drivers' (including every ordinary soccer mom, grandma, police officer, priest, or school teacher who has ever committed the kind of heinous offenses listed above).  Based on Maryland's history, the majority in the legislature will probably accept this argument so long as their districts get a cut.

That stop sign cameras would be used to ticket for the types of offenses show above is a near certainty, regardless of any promises that are made in advance, because they would vastly increase the revenue such a camera could generate.  The precedent has been set by red light cameras in some jurisdictions, such as New Carrollton, which ticket for 'white line running' (stopping slightly past the white line) as a matter of policy, and by jurisdictions such as Rockville, which recently began issuing tickets for making rolling right turns on red  (this is despite a statement by Montgomery County Police that the vastly increased number of 'flashes' from red light cameras which people have recently been observing in Montgomery County are merely 'warning flashes'.  We will cover that in more detail real soon.)  Because the restrictions regarding photo enforcement systems in Maryland have no enforcement mechanism, there is no reason local governments would not push the limits of the law as far as possible if doing so increases revenue.

Few jurisdictions currently use stop sign cameras.  The seven stop sign cameras located in one Santa Monica Mountain park run by the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority issued $2.8million worth of tickets in FY10.  Where they have been used, they have been criticized because those jurisdictions demanded personal financial data from ticket recipients and were ticketing vehicles that stopped 'a foot over the white line' or 'slowly rolled through' stop signs, leaving it clear this would be the use of the devices.  The group 'Safer Streets LA' wrote about the issuance of $175 tickets to non-dangerous drivers who pause at intersections for more than enough time to confirm there is no other traffic. They also wrote about the placement of a stop sign camera on a 'crosswalk to nowhere'.

Mayor Beers stated in the minutes of a town meeting that "if the town can recover the costs a stop sign camera might be an option, if county approval was granted.", indicating that this 'life saving' technology is not considered an option if it costs money rather than generating revenue.  Human police are allowed to issue citations for stop signs, but under current state law that revenue goes to the state... as opposed to photo enforcement systems which the legislature allowed local governments to keep.

At any rate, the stop sign cameras should be a quite lucrative addition to DC's photo enforcement portfolio.  DC collected $194million worth of speed and red light camera fines between 2008 and 2012, including $55.14 just from speed cameras in FY2011... a number which is budgeted to continue growing.  With the regular supply of first-time visitors to the nation's capital who have never even heard of a 'stop sign camera', we can anticipate the District and their contractor to be rolling in stop sign cash very soon.