Sunday, November 18, 2012

Baltimore Courts Exonerated Some Drivers of Erroneous Tickets

More drivers and companies have stepped forwards about speed camera citations issued by the City of Baltimore based on erroneous speed measurements, and some of the drivers have been exonerated in court.

The Baltimore Sun did an extensive report on problems with the city's speed camera program, including information that citations had been issued based on what appear to have been erroneous speed readings.

Excerpts from the Baltimore Sun story:
The tractor-trailer hit 70 mph as it passed the Poly-Western high school campus on Cold Spring Lane, barreling down a turn lane at twice the legal speed limit. Or so the $40 citation claimed. Just before Falls Road, a pole-mounted speed camera clocked the truck with radar and snapped some pictures. A ticket soon went out in the mail. 
On paper it seemed like just the kind of blatant, dangerous school-zone speeding violation that the ubiquitous enforcement cameras are designed to catch and deter.
Except the truck wasn't going 70 mph that September morning — or even fast enough to get a ticket, The Baltimore Sun determined after examining the camera's time-stamped photos and measuring how far the vehicle traveled. Simple math proves the automated camera was off the mark.
 
The camera had been misfiring for months, in fact. And city officials knew it.
Going back to last winter, the truck's owner got three other tickets from the same camera, and in each case the camera's own photos show the citations were wrong. Other truck companies report similar complaints: Same camera, same issue.
 
[...]
"To put it in simple terms, it's not fair," said Michael Weiss, chief financial officer of the Naron Mary Sue Candy Co., whose trucks have gotten four tickets that photo evidence shows were inaccurate. "Nobody likes to get a ticket for something they didn't do, whether it's jaywalking or spitting on the sidewalk or speeding."
[...]
The Sun examined eight tickets issued by the camera to two trucking companies. One citation, issued Sept. 4, claimed a truck was traveling 70 mph in a 35 mph zone. Like every speed camera ticket issued under state law, it included two photos of the truck, offered as evidence the vehicle broke the law. According to time stamps on the photographs, they were snapped by the camera a half-second apart. 
A truck traveling 70 mph will cover just over 51 feet in half a second. But by measuring street markings that were clearly evident in the photo, The Sun found that the truck traveled no more than 30 feet, which translates to a speed of 41 mph. The other citations also yielded measurements indicating considerably slower speeds than those listed on the citations and none fast enough to warrant a $40 citation. 
In early February, before most of the eight citations were issued, the city and Xerox were both alerted to problems with that camera, according to emails The Sun obtained between city officials and another truck operator.
StopBigBrotherMD provided these emails to the Baltimore Sun (which we reported about previously), after we obtained them through a Public Information Act Request.  The Baltimore Sun Authenticated it with the company that received the ticket.

The Sun stated the city conducted an investigation and provided explanations after receiving their inquiries:
"We have discovered that some larger vehicles may have experienced radar effects that led to abnormal speed readings," officials said by email. 
"If we find that there was in fact an interference with the system, refunds will be issued to those affected."
Xerox spokesman Chris Gilligan said Friday that the company and the city "conducted a thorough investigation" after learning of a potential issue with the Cold Spring camera.
"This investigation determined that the speeds recorded for an extremely limited number of high-profile vehicles were excessive due to radar effects, most likely reflection off the large metallic surfaces of these vehicles," he said in an email. "Unfortunately, in these instances, the radar effects were not identified due to human error." 
Gilligan said the company also "added in an extra quality-control step in the review process for tickets that are 30 mph over the limit to better prevent these anomalies." 
That extra review would not have applied to two of the Mary Sue tickets, which wrongly claimed its trucks were going 47 mph.
Mary Sue company paid the first citation they received, but contested some of their later citations which were dismissed in court.

Read The Complete Exposé by the Baltimore Sun, including an interview and "violation" videos from one of the falsely accused companies.  Additional evidence videos can be seen in our previous posting about some of these errors from October 10.

Meanwhile, WBFF news interviewed another driver who operates a small company with a truck and received two erroneous citations for going 65 and 67 mph at 1300 West Cold Spring Lane.  The citation images showing the vehicle's brake lights on, with a red light and stopped car in front of him.  "The traffic was right in front of me, so if I had been going 65 mph there I would have crashed", owner Jarrod Frock stated.   He paid the first one, but when the second one arrived decided to contest that one in court, despite the fact that by his estimate taking the time off to do so would cost him $200-$500 in lost income.  The judge reportedly saw the evidence videos and dismissed the citation.

Another company which had earlier contacted StopBigBrotherMD.org about eight erroneous citations they had received at 1300 ColdSpring Lane as well as another nearby site at 3800 Greenspring Avenue made several good faith attempts to contact Baltimore City officials prior to their hearing several times.  This included emailing the director of the Baltimore DOT, Khalil Zaied, on Monday November 12th.  They reported to us that they received no response from the city prior to their hearing.  In this case, in addition to the images and videos, the company also had a device installed on their vehicles which recorded the maximum speed of the vehicle on each span of road, and the data showed their vehicles could not have been traveling the speed shown on the citations.  At their November 16th hearing all eight of the citations they were contesting that day dismissed.  However this was only after they had expended a significant amount of time plus $500 worth of legal expenses, and the company representative stated to StopBigBrotherMD.org that they still has three citations which are awaiting hearings.