Friday, September 28, 2012

PA Resident Gets 2 Tickets Without Visiting Maryland was recently contacted by a motorist from Pennsylvania who was ticketed not once but twice for a vehicle which did not belong to her:
"I've received 2 incorrect tickets for speeding around Baltimore.  I live in PA, and there is another PA plated car with the same number as me, except where I have an M they have a W.  The picture from the last ticket is during the day and fairly clear, it's just that PA's W and M are pretty narrow.

The ticket says "Sworn to or affirmed by" with a signature, but it is obviously not checked.  The car in the pictures is a silver Honda, whereas I have a dark brown VW.  They look nothing alike.

Calling the customer service line lead to a review and dismissal of the 1st ticket, and I'm on the same path with this one, but if the other car was the same or similar to mine would I just be found guilty?  It's also a hassle just to go through this process, but nothing compared to if I have to go all the way down for a court date ever.

We've reported on cases of errors by cameras many times.  Baltimore City issued a speed camera ticket ticket to a motorist who have been dead for years.  The city has issued tickets to an incorrect vehicle in cases where the images were so dark the car could not even be seen, in a case where it took that ticket recipient months to get the 'offense' removed from their MVA record.  There have been at least three separate instances where Baltimore erroneously issued thousands of tickets from cameras configured to the wrong speed limit from one camera in 2010 and agan from two different cameras in 2012, meaning the problem may actually be getting worse.  WBAL also reported how Baltimore City's red light camera program once issued thousands of tickets "signed" by a police officer who had been deceased for months.

The SHA's cameras around Baltimore are not blameless either... one motorist wrote to the Baltimore Sun about receiving a citation for someone else's car, and needed to take off work and drive 54 miles to contest the ticket.

To officials who say "if you don't speed you won't get a ticket", we say BULL!  With the faulty quality control some speed camera programs have been getting away with, you don't even need to visit Maryland to get a ticket.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rockville Using Right Turn Cameras

The City of Rockville has been using its red light cameras to ticket vehicles for right turns on red at intersections where there is not a 'no turn on red' sign.

Our inquiry into this matter began when many people noticed red light cameras in Montgomery County flashing with no obvious explanation, and that this was happening frequentlyWTOP inquired of Montgomery County Police, and police spokesperson Captain Paul Starkes stated that "It's a warning flash" and "It's something that is meant to get the driver's attention".

"In our opinion", Montgomery County's explanation (to put it as politely as possible) does not accurately explain the situation.  One does not send 'warnings' to vehicles from behind.  And to do so would be a completely non-standard traffic signal under the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

It turns out that cameras in Montgomery County which were deployed by the City of Rockville under their contract with Xerox Corporation(formerly ACS State and Local Solutions, the same contractor Montgomery County uses), have now been configured to ticket for right turns.  And in order to capture images of slow-moving right turns, they likely needed a lower threshold for taking photos.  Indeed if you read Rockville's page on red light cameras it states:
"If the speed of a vehicle at a certain distance prior to the stop bar is at or above a pre-determined threshold speed, then the cameras will initiate the photo sequence to photograph the vehicle prior to the stop bar and again once the vehicle has fully entered the intersection on a steady red light."
Clearly these are not "warning flashes"... the device is taking photos. Despite the typical narrative which photo enforcement programs only photograph people who break the law, red light cameras frequently photograph non-violators, because othewise they could not capture the first image which must be taken before entering the intersection.  Citation reviewers are supposed to sort them out later.  And in order to ticket for right turns, they need to make the device more sensitive... thus photographing more non-violations, and more 'flashes'.

Making a right turn on red is legal in Maryland, however it is required by law to stop prior to the white stop line (as per transportation article 21-202 section i).

HOWEVER, there is no indication that it was ever the legislative intent of the state's red light camera law to ticket for slow moving right turns.  If you read article 21-202.1, you will not see ANY mention of right turns.  It refers to 'That the driver of the vehicle passed through the intersection in violation of § 21-202(h) ', but never specifically mentions turns.  Likewise if you look at the original fiscal policy notes for the legislation, you won't see any reference to right turns, it refers to 'red light running', not making turns.  Furthermore, the statute states "(c)   This section applies to a violation of § 21-202(h) of this subtitle at an intersection monitored by a traffic control signal monitoring system." and the citation (as directed by law) specifies that the citations are a violation or article § 21-202(h).  § 21-202(h) is the section of the law which refers to red light running.  Right turn violations are specifically addressed under article § 21-202(i).  One could reasonably make the argument that red light cameras were introduced in order to ticket for straight through violations, but that they were not originally intended to be used for turns.

The fact is that red light cameras were sold to the public on the basis of combatting deliberate straight-through red light running, which have a natural deterrent for most people that value their own safety.  However slow moving right turns on red are extremely unlikely to cause accidents.  One study showed that an average motorist could drive a billion miles, the distance from Earth to Jupiter and back, before being involved in an accident that resulted from a motorist making a rolling stop on a right-hand turn. 

Moreover, with vehicles moving at single digit speeds, a driver could quite possibly believe they had stopped from their perspective inside the car... the only perspective they have to work with at that time.

We  filed a public information act request with Rockville for information about how many of their red light camera violations are due to right turns, but they have stated they do not collect this information.  However in other jurisdictions where photo ticketing for right turns is done, right turn violations VASTLY outnumber straight-through violations.  In LA, for example, right turns constituted 80% of all violations.  In a recent case in Knoxville, when the state banned the practice of ticketing for right turns the number of citations city wide dropped 87% from 58,000 to 8000 for a 6 month period, indicating how many of their violations were in fact coming from turns.  So far our anecdotal information indicates that the number of right turn on red tickets being issued by Rockville may be huge.

Here are some examples of the alleged violations which Rockville has issued tickets for recently:

You can judge for yourself whether these were safe turns.  In each of these instances, the motorists had slowed to single-digit speeds, and had adequate time to confirm that yes, the way was clear.  With several of Rockville's right turn on red cameras, such as on Gaither Road and Gude Drive, there is not even any cross-traffic to worry about... traffic only comes from vehicles making right turns which can easily be seen.

In our opinion, the idea of creating a vast network of surveillance devices to catch non-dangerous technical violations was not how red light cameras were sold to the public.  The legislative history for the state's red light camera law makes no mention of turns whatsoever and does not indicate this was the intended purpose.  To sell photo enforcement to the public under one set of assumptions, and then use it to enforce a different and much less serious technical violation, is a typical "bait and switch".  If that is what red light cameras were going to be used for, it should have been stated from the outset, and it was not.

A policy like this, which is bound to issue vast numbers of tickets to motorists with long safe driving records, should have been widely announced prior to its introduction.  We cannot find any indication that this was done or that signage was changed near the cameras to accurately describe the city's camera policy.

This is where we like to remind people that when voicing complaints about matters of POLICY they should contact elected officials in the City of Rockville or the state legislature.  Calling the phone number on the citation(which is answered by a contract), or to police(who only implement policy) will simply result in the complaint vanishing into the ether. It is NOT appropriate for elected officials to forward complaints about a matter of policy to police, and people should complain loudly if they do.

Additional Data 09/27/2012:
In a 1995 report to Congress,
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the relative impact of right-turn-on-red(RTOT) on traffic safety was "very small". 

The NHTSA concluded that based on nationwide data from the FARS (fatality analysis reporting system) "less than 0.2 percent of all fatalities involved a right-turning vehicle maneuver at an intersection where RTOR is permitted. FARS, however, does not discern whether the traffic signal was red." and therefore the number occurring on red was likely to be far less.  Examining data from four states (including Maryland) which specifically recorded whether accidents occurred during a turn on red, the study concluded that:  
  • Right-Turn-On-Red crashes represent a very small proportion of the total number of traffic crashes in the four states (0.05 percent). 
  • RTOR injury and fatal crashes represent a fraction of 1 percent of all fatal and injury crashes (0.06 percent). 
  • RTOR crashes represent a very small proportion of signalized intersection crashes (0.4 percent).
Even these numbers included accidents occurring on any right turn on red, including those which were not 'rolling turns'.  In fact their data suggests that the risk posed by right turns on red is so small that the percentage of accidents involve cars making RTORs may actually be several times lower than the percentage of accidents where cars were turning right ON GREEN.

The NHTSA concluded that "there are a relatively small number of deaths and injuries each year caused by right-turn-on-red crashes.  These represent a very small percentage of all crashes, deaths, and injuries. Because the number of crashes due to right-turn-on-red is small, the impact on traffic safety, therefore, has also been small."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Long, Difficult Road to Imperfect Justice

Circuit Court Order to District Court
Motorists whose right to due process is discarded by District courts may need to file expensive appeals in order to have the details of their case heard.  Here is the tail of one defendant's long, but eventually successful, struggle to get citations issued by Forest Heights and Optotraffic dismissed in circuit court and vacate an incorrect district court ruling.

Some of our frequent readers may be familiar with the saga of Will Foreman of Eastover Auto.  A fleet of vehicles owned by Eastover Auto was issued a large number of speed camera citations by the Town of Forest Heights (with multiple vehicles operated by multiple drivers over many months).  Mr Foreman alleged, using time-distance calculations from the citations themselves, that the speed measurements recorded by Optotraffic's cameras were erroneous.

Mr Foreman had successfully challenged five of the citations up until April of 2011.  Then suddenly, Eastover Auto, and everyone else we were in contact with on the matter, mysteriously stopped receiving court dates for Forest Heights Speed camera citations for months.  Then, at the same time when Prince George's county announced the beginning of their speed camera program, Mr Foreman and others who had been waiting up to a year for hearings were finally awarded court dates in August of 2011.  And every one of them was found guilty.  In this case the judge refused to hear any arguments regarding the accuracy of the cameras, and Optotraffic argued that citation images cannot be used as evidence of speed.

Foreman had become one of those leading the charge against the alleged inaccuracy of Optotraffic's cameras.  After the ruling Optotraffic and their clients(notably including College Park) launched a PR campaign, with Optotraffic issuing press releases which attacked Mr. Foreman personally and claimed the verdicts proved the accuracy of Optotraffic's cameras.

Future hearings for Forest Heights had the same outcome for most defendants. One individual who's 40,000 lb RV had been accused of speeding while towing a car was found guilty, with the same judge accepting Optotraffic's argument that images could not be used to exonerate a defendant of speeding.  In another case an elderly defendant was thrown in jail for asserting his innocence in court.  Another judge brazenly stated that she would not hear any argument other than that another person was driving and to present that driver, and that no argument that the speed reading was incorrect would be considered.

Documents later released by the town of Cheverly proved that some Optotraffic cameras had experienced "False Triggers" and incorrect speed measurements.  However a court refused to admit this evidence (Even though the government is permitted to present evidence "without authentication" in speed camera hearings, according to the wording of state law). also obtained a record from the town of New Carrollton confirming that this jurisdiction had also experienced a 'false trigger' event (see document).  This, in our opinion, proves beyond any doubt that some errors have occurred with these devices.  Forest Heights, on the other hand, refused to provide documents pertaining to possible or alleged camera errors in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request, even though they clearly had received such complaints at the time we made our requests.

Mr Foreman appealed several of his citations to circuit court.  He was required to pay the fines in advance, plus a $23 per ticket district court cost, plus a $80 PER CITATION fee for each citation being appealed.  This shows how economically impossible it would be to appeal every $40 citation issued by a speed camera program which has a systematic problem (which the state high court has stated is the only way for defendants to contest such issues).

Foreman attempted to subpoena documents from Forest Heights for his defense, but the town refused to provide any of the requested documents in court.  He also attempted to get the SHA to authenticate documents which he wanted to admit as evidenceForeman reported to us that the Maryland Attorney General's office advised the SHA not to cooperate with his requestThis demonstrates what we believe is yet another example of how the Attorney General's office (or as I refer to them 'The Department of Helping the Government Break the Law') has actively worked to limit the public's access to due process and has helped local governments in warp the rules regarding speed cameras.

John O'Connor testified on Behalf of Optotraffic that photos cannot be used to show speed: "We do not use photos that are taken at two independent times to estimate speed.  Why? Because it's inaccurate. You can't do it." and "The photo is actually just secondary evidence that the vehicle was there and it was in motion, that it was there at the time of the occurrence."  [ O'Connor has identified himself as "Director of the Law Institute of Maryland" in his linkedin page...  an organization which we could find no information for online other than a domain name registration which was opened on September 2011 and which recently expired.  He lists himself as formerly the "Program Manager Automated Speed Enforcement Program Seat Pleasant Police Department", a town whose speed cameras are run by Optotraffic.  That linkedin page also references the Optotraffic website (snapshot from 9/21/2012).  O'Connor reportedly gave similar testimony to this effect on Optotraffic's behalf at numerous hearings.]

This testimony seems to conflict with Optotraffic's own technical document, which states that their equipment is supposed to be able to verify speed: While the primary evidence for issuing a speeding citation is the calibrated Lane Sensor, the two photos provide the secondary evidence of speeding that is presented to the citation recipient.” and “Since a stationary object is present along with the vehicle, a photographic method also determines speed, guaranteeing fairness”. 

Standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA)  for 'across the road' police radar standards seem to confirm that images can, and should, be used to verify speed:
"2.18.2 Unattended Operation. If the ATR device is to be considered for unattended operation, the manufacturer shall provide a secondary method for verifying that the evidential recorded image properly identifies the target vehicle and reflects this vehicle’s true speed, as described in §5.18.2. This may be accomplished by means of a second, appropriately delayed image showing the target vehicle crossing a specified reference line."
"5.17.2 Unattended Operation. Repeat the tests of §, supplemented by the manufacturer’s secondary method for proving that the evidential image correctly identifies the offending vehicle and its speed.
Both DC and Montgomery County place white stripes on the road at camera sites to facilitate measuring 'the progression' of the vehicle, in order to conform to the NHTSA standard and (as Montgomery County stated) comply with state the law.

Mr Foreman's attorney argued that if images captures by Optotraffic cameras were not evidence of speed, then citations do not meet the statutory requirement of the law.  Transportation article 21-809 states that citations contain "a signed statement by a duly authorized law enforcement officer employed by or under contract with an agency that, based on inspection of recorded images, the motor vehicle was being operated in violation of this subtitle.".

We previously noted how there were 'tick marks' on the road at the Forest Heights speed camera site in question at one point, but that these markings were blotted out after people started reporting errors.  Optotraffic also removed the explicit "Delta Time: Time b/t photos" from their citations, which had been listed on photos prior to people reporting errors.   No explanation for that change to the timestamps was ever given publicly, nor did any of the several jurisdictions we inquired of provide any response as to why that was done.

Mr Foreman's case was dismissed.   Judge Northrop wrote: "The appeals were dismissed in favor of the Defendant Eastover Auto Supply", ordering all court costs to be refunded: READ COURT ORDER.  It was a long painful route to avoiding the 'admission of speeding' which the state high court has said paying a citation is.

But it was far from perfect justice.  Even though the Circuit court ordered the district court to refund all court costs which he had been required to pay after the initial district court hearing, Foreman reports that of 9/12/12 he still has received not refund for the district court fees.  "A Circuit Judge files an order to District Court and it is ignored.  Can you imagine if the roles were reversed an I ignored his order? I would have penalties, interest and my registration would be suspended.", wrote Foreman.

To this day Optotraffic refuses to acknowledge that speed measurement errors have ever taken place, despite huge amounts of evidence that they have.  Optotraffic and Forest Heights are happily continuing to issue more citations with the same equipment, using an inspection process which likely does not include any secondary verification of speed.  Or perhaps which does, but which they cannot admit to because that would confirm the assertions of those who have claimed errors.  And of course Optotraffic, Forest Heights, College Park and Prince George's County already got their little PR kick out of the district court decision at the critical time when Optotraffi's cameras were coming under scrutiny, which is exactly what they needed to justify the county choosing a contractor who was a contributor to the county executive's campaign fund.

However in the absence of a legislative solution, which has so far been casually brushed aside by state lawmakers, defendants who receive erroneous citations face a roll of the dice in district court.  The cameras may have collected evidence which has sufficient time stamp detail to prove speed, they may not.  They may have a judge who is willing to consider 'secondary evidence' of speed and give the defendant the rightful benefit of the doubt, or they may simply hand out assembly line verdicts. That is the state of justice for Motorists in Maryland.

Forest Heights reported collecting a net $2.6million worth of speed camera fines in FY2011(divided between the town, Optotraffic, and the State of Maryland), which compares to the town's total revenue of $2.19 million from all other sources combined.... revenue which will likely be used to "buy the gun they will point to your head" in order to extract more money from the public in the future.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Opinion: Don't Buy From Xerox

ACS State and Local Solutions has been the speed camera contractor for Montgomery County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Bowie, Frederick City, Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Takoma Park, the SHA's 'SafeZones" program, as well as in DC and other locations outside of Maryland. In 2009, ACS was bought out by Xerox Corporation, a well known company which produces a wide variety of commercial products for home and office use. 

Unfortunately, as the biggest speed camera contractor in the state, ACS bears some of the responsibility for the abuses and injustices we have documented on this website.  They have engaged in tactics such as Astroturfing in Baltimore County and in Howard County. Their cameras were involved in cases of mass false accusations in Baltimore City.  And of course the cameras they deploy are partially responsible for the creeping surveillance state and our loss of the right to face an accuser.

If you oppose automated enforcement then we believe you should not give them any of your money, by boycotting Xerox consumer and office products. These products include:
  • Printers (including the Workcentre, Phaser, ColorQube models)
  • Scanners (including DocuMate brand scanners)
  • Copiers
  • Fax machines
  • Office Products (printer paper, labels,  and toner cartridges)
  • Software Products
The next time you need printer paper or replacement printer cartridges, don't buy Xerox. The next time you want to buy a printer/scanner/copier/fax, don't buy Xerox. Just buy it from another company. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Don't Pay That Late Fee!

We previously reported that the Chief Judge of the District Court issued a decision that late fees imposed on Speed Camera, Red Light Camera, and Parking tickets violated a provision of the Maryland state constitution because they were not uniform across the state.  As such, the court was refusing to enforce late fees as of March of this year.

According to the Washington Examiner, Montgomery County and many other jurisdictions have since stopped charging late fees.  However some of the approximately 31 jurisdictions issuing photo tickets may still charging them.  So some motorists may still be getting scamera tickets with late fees attached.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Prince George's to Have Cameras Watching Cameras

WTOP Reports that Prince George's County plans to deploy cameras near its speed camera locations in order to monitor them for camera vandalism.

County Police say that there have been multiple instances of cameras being attacked.  They report instances of cameras being set on fire and shot.  In one case a camera was flipped over, leading police to believe multiple individuals must have been involved due to the large size of cameras used by the county.  In another instance one of the legs of a camera was cut off.

"It costs us $30,000 to $100,000 to replace a camera. That's a significant loss in the program. " stated Major Liberati, who leads the county's photo enforcement program.

Under the county's contract, the cameras are not owned by the county but are instead provided by private speed camera contractor Optotraffic, who builds, owns, maintains, repairs, and processes violations from the cameras, and mails the tickets.

"The roads are choked, there are lots of drivers on them. I think traffic itself is the cause of frustration (towards speed cameras)" said Liberati.
So in response, the county will now be deploying cameras to watch the cameras.  Unlike the speed cameras themselves which only record vehicles which are accused of speeding, the monitoring cameras will record video of anyone in the vicinity of the cameras 24/7.  One such monitoring camera has already been deployed, and the county hopes to add a dozen more.

"It's not worth going to jail over a $40 ticket or an arson or destruction of property charge," says Liberati.

Read complete article on WTOP

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Baltimore Earns Over $19million From Speed Cameras

The Baltimore Sun reports that Baltimore City's Speed Camera Program raked in $19.2million in speed camera fines in the past Fiscal Year, a $2.5million increase over last year and $4million more than the city had predicted.

The city had originally budgeted to bring in $15million from the city's 83 speed cameras.  According to the Sun article, the amount of revenue to budget coming from speed camera, and how it would be allocated, had apparently been the topic of some debate, due to the fact that the revenue projections depended on hundreds of thousands of traffic violations which had not in fact taken place yet:
Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young proposed an alternative spending plan that assumed $3.5 million more in funding from the cameras than the mayor's did. Young touted his plan as a way to keep recreation centers and fire companies from closing.
Rawlings-Blake, at the time, criticized Young's proposal as irresponsible. She said Montgomery County's experience with speed cameras shows that drivers stop speeding near cameras and that revenue therefore declines.
In a June letter to the council, Rawlings-Blake warned that "painful midyear budget cuts" could be necessary if Young's plan were approved and the increased speed camera revenue didn't come through.
Read Complete Article on the Baltimore Sun
$19.2million would represent approximately 480,000 citations.  The speed camera contractor (Xerox Corp, formerly ACS State and Local Solutions) receives a percentage cut of each ticket.

Of course as everyone knows speed cameras are about safety and not revenue.  Baltimore city designated vast new school zones when it began it's 'school zone' speed camera program, many of which are in locations that were never considered or marked as school zones previously... "for the children".  Their program has been so highly effective that it is even able to issue tickets to motorists who have been dead for years and to invisible cars.  The at least three separate instances where the city erroneously issued thousands of tickets from cameras configured to the wrong speed limit in 2012 and in 2010, had practically nothing to do with a financial incentive on the part of the city and their contractor to issue more citations.... we are very nearly almost sure of that.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lawsuit Accused DC Police of Stealing Phone, Destroying Photos

WTOP has reported that a man has filed suit against DC Police after officers allegedly seized a smartphone which he claimed he was using to photograph "police misconduct".