Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lawmakers Consider Legislation to Address Camera Errors

The ongoing controversy about erroneous speed camera citations issued by the city of Baltimore and contractor Xerox Corporation, has prompted several state lawmakers to declare that they wish to see legislation to prevent errors and close loopholes in the state's speed camera law.

The Baltimore Sun recently reported a series on errors being produced by Baltimore City speed cameras, using image timestamps to demonstrate that some citations had inaccurate speed readings... in some cases off by 30mph or more.  In a recent report the Sun noted that many speed camera programs, including those run by Baltimore County, Howard County, and the SHA, 'skirt the intent of the law' by not providing accurate timestamps on speed camera images accurate enough to know the real interval between frames.  When the image timestamp interval is not known, confirmation of the recorded speed using images impossible.  The state law on speed cameras requires that citations contain "two timestamped images", and that citations must bear a sworn statement that "based on inspection of recorded images, the motor vehicle was being operated in violation of this subtitle".  However some jurisdictions have argued that this only means citations must provide evidence that the vehicles were present and moving, rather than being used to actually verify speed.

StopBigBrotherMD.org noted in the past some Baltimore City citations only displayed 1s of precision, and that Montgomery County has done this as well in some cases.  Timestamp formats and the amount of evidence made available to defendants have varied between programs and has in some cases changed over time.  For example, speed camera contractor Optotraffic used to print an explicit delta time between images to 3 decimal places of precision on all of their citations, and published a document stating that citations provide evidence of speed... but later after several people found evidence that those cameras had produced errors the company lowered the precision to one decimal place and asserted in court that images cannot be used as evidence of speed.   Judges have been inconsistent in interpreting the law on this matter.  In some cases judges have thrown out citations where there was insufficient or inaccurate timestamp evidence, in others judges have refused to consider any evidence challenging a recorded speed.

NHTSA(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) standards state that for unattended speed cameras: "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."

Delegate Jon Cardin (D, Baltimore County) stated that speed camera programs have "violated the public trust" by issuing erroneous citations.  "Over the last few weeks, the speed camera issue has really shaken all our confidence in what our government is here to do," stated Cardin "Is government here to raise revenue, or is government here to keep our residents safe?"  He proposed that speed camera programs should be required to provide image timestamps accurate enough to validate speed, and also that they should submit to an audit and be fined $1000 for each "bogus" speed camera citation they have issued, creating a financial incentive to ensure accuracy.

Senator James Brochin(D, Baltimore county), speaking to WBAL news, criticized the fact that many jurisdictions have only been printing speed camera timestamps to whole seconds, and also the fact that jurisdictions have been circumventing a restriction against paying contractors based on the number of citations issued.  He proposed that legislation was necessary to remove loopholes which some jurisdictions have been using to circumvent the intent of the law.  Senator Brochin had voted against statewide speed cameras in 2009, and had previously sponsored legislation which would have eliminated a current provision of law which allows 'workzone" speed cameras to be used when no workers are present.  (The senate voted down such a change last year, you can see which state senators voted to keep workerless-workzone cameras here.)

Legislation had been introduced last year which would have tightened the requirements for speed camera evidence and testing (House Bill 1044).  HB1044 contained some of the same provisions now being discussed in the wake of the disclosure Baltimore's camera problems, and would have ensured that citations could be used as evidence of speed, removed the loophole jurisdictions have been using to sign per-ticket contracts, and would have required genuinely independent testing of cameras by a nationally recognized organization.  House Bill 1044 was sponsored by Delegates Susan K. McComas, Kathy Afzali, Gail H. Bates, John W. E. Cluster, Jr., Adelaide C. Eckardt, Donald B. Elliott, William J. Frank, Ron George, Glen Glass, Michael J. Hough, Nicholaus R. Kipke, Michael A. McDermott, Pat McDonough, Warren E. Miller, Joseph J. Minnick, and Nancy R. Stocksdale.  The House Environmental Matters Committee was presented with extensive evidence supporting house bill 1044, including testimony regarding speed camera issues by AAA, Maryland-PIRG, recipients of erroneous citations, and also by the editor of the StopBigBrotherMD.org website.  The Environmental Matters Committee (chaired by Delegate Maggie McIntosh (D, Baltimore City)), killed HB1044 without even bringing it to a committee vote.  The committee promised that the legislation would be the topic of an "interim study" over the summer... a study which appears to have never taken place.

Motorists who wish to express their views about speed camera legislation can find their state lawmakers at www.mdelect.net.