Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Baltimore Wages War On School Bus Drivers Over Camera Tickets

The Baltimore Press and City officials have been tripping over each other to condemn the city's school bus drivers after it was revealed that many red light and speed camera tickets had been issued to buses.  Some have been calling for school bus drivers who receive citations to be suspended or fired, despite the fact that upon close examination some of the alleged violations are questionable and perhaps never should have even been issued in the first place.

ABCNews2 ran a story showing that there had been 18 red light camera tickets issued to Baltimore City District Bus drivers and 19 to Baltimore county drivers   The story contained videos showing some of the alleged red light violations.  However, a close examination of the video reveals that many of them showed buses entering the intersection a small fraction of a second before reaching the intersection, or even showing the vehicle already at the stop line when the light turned red, or showed vehicles that were making a right turn on red.  No mention of the split second nature of those violations was made during the story, or of the fact that some might not be violations at all.  Since the mainstream press chose not to examine this, and instead to presume guilt on the part of all drivers receiving citations, we will examine them now.

The following video clip in fact shows a vehicle making a right turn.

This is the entire clip for this violation from the ABCNews2 story... starting a mere second before the actual "violation", but it looks like the bus may in fact have been accelerating from a full stop.  There is no indication of a "no turn on red" sign in the video, indicating that this may in fact have been a PERFECTLY LEGAL right turn.  Even if a 100% full stop did not occur, there's every appearance that the bus was at least virtually stopped and that the turn was in fact safe.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rockville Sees Enormous Jump In Red Light Camera Tickets

Data released by the City of Rockville showed that their newly upgraded red light cameras, which ticket for slow moving right turns on red, have produced an order of magnitude increase in the number of citations being issued compared to prior months.

After we noted that many cameras deployed by Rockville had been flashing when there was no apparent violation, and began receiving reports from large numbers of motorists being ticketed for making right turns on red from Rockville, StopBigBrotherMD.org filed a public information act request with the city.  The request included the monthly total number of red light camera violations for the city’s red light cams, including the number which were for right turns, for 2011 and 2012.  The following data sheet was provided:

In the first 3 months of 2012, and all of 2011, the total for ten red light cameras was less than 900 per month.  In April the city changed vendors and the old cameras were switched off, with no violations collected for 3 months.

Then in August, after five of the new model cameras were deployed, the city issued 5557 citations from just half the number of cameras.

Comparing the August numbers for the 3 pre-existing camera sites to their averages from 2012:
This shows that these three camera sites saw between 9.8 and 28.7 times as many violations as they were producing in the prior year.  These citations, if fully paid, would total $416,775 in fines FOR ONE MONTH.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Some In DC Want Cameras to Target Maryland and Virginia

In a debate among candidates for DC council, council member Michael Brown argued that speed cameras should be place for the specific purpose of targeting Maryland and Virgina residents, demonstrating that one of the motives for camera enforcement by DC is to create a de facto commuter tax on visitors to the nation's capital.. From WTOP.Com:
DC Council Member Michael Brown
 "If the cameras are going to be anywhere, let's at least put them on the fringes of the city so we can get the Maryland and Virginia folks to pay those fines rather than us," Brown said.

When the moderator pointed out that 65 percent of the fines are already issued to Maryland and Virginia drivers, Brown replied, "What's wrong with 100 percent of those being from Maryland and Virginia?"

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Speed Camera Salesman Cited for Speeding AGAIN

Last August reported how a high profile spokesman for Maryland based speed camera company Optotraffic, Mickey Shepherd, was caught speeding in May of 2011.  After that incident was reported, Mr Shepherd replied to us in an email:  "In regards to the violation, and your publication of this information, my only comment is that I appreciate the reminder.  These reminders only serve to help in my efforts to obey the law."  Despite the reminder, court records now show a second incident under Mr Shepherd's name dated September 11, 2012, for allegedly driving 71mph, 16mph over the speed limit:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Riverdale Park Says Public Cannot Challenge Fraud

The Town of Riverdale Park has requested the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that the town speed camera program committed FRAUD by allowing civilians to approve citations bearing the signature of a police officer who never signed or reviewed the tickets.

In a 129 page motion, the Riverdale Park asserted that the plaintiffs have no legal right to pursue their claim against the city on six separate grounds --NONE OF WHICH CHALLENGED THE ACCUSATION THAT A POLICE OFFICER'S NAME WAS FORGED ON THOUSANDS OF SPEED CAMERA TICKETS HE DID NOT REVIEW.

The first basis for dismissal which the town claimed, was regarding the recent case Baker v Montgomery, where the state high court basically ruled that speed camera agencies are above the law and can't be sued, regarding the issue of contingent fee contracts.  As we anticipated when that ruling came out, it is now being used as a basis to condone blatantly illegal actions by a local government.  Second, the town asserts that only Riverdale Park residents can assert standing as 'taxpayers'.  Third and fourth, they claim the defendants did not comply with the 180 day time limit in the "Local Government Tort Claims Act", a law which limits the public's right to sue the government. Fifth, they defend their right to issue citations from a device which --- according to it's manufacturer -- does not provide visually conformable evidence of speed. 

NONE of these challenge the basic allegation that town officials and Optotraffic committed fraud by forging the signature of a police officer who did not review the citations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Trucking Company Questions Accuracy of Baltimore Camera Tickets

A manager from trucking company has questioned the accuracy of citations issued to them by speed cameras in Baltimore, claiming that evidence images and videos captured by the cameras shows the large semi trucks could not have been traveling at the high speeds recorded on the citations.

The Safety Manager for a PA based trucking company forwarded a citation alleging that a large semi truck had been traveling 70mph in a 35mph zone at 1300 Block of W. Coldspring Lane E/B
"This is the 6th citation we've received at this location since 1/07/12 and it's getting out of hand.  I reviewed each video personally and there was never any indication our driver was speeding.  I sent a letter to city a few months ago expressing my concerns, but heard nothing back, of course.", He wrote to us in an email.

The manager provided access to the images and videos for four violations, showing different trucks (and presumably different drivers), all recorded at the same location for various dates in 2012.  This is a company which operates hundreds of vehicles, and may have had many vehicles passing this speed camera a great many times in 2012, making the possibility of multiple occurrences of what would be a low-probability error for a single instance mathematically much more likely over that period. 

Most speed cameras in use in Maryland capture still pictures only.  However this particular camera appears to be configured to collect 3 second long video clips.  The citation images read 'speed on green', indicating this may be a converted red light camera (some red light cameras can be converted to speed cameras requiring only a software change, and red light cameras DO record video).  The four alleged violations claimed the vehicles were traveling between 59 and 70mph.  You can judge whether this is accurate for yourself.

Event #1:  The first alleged violation was on 2/10/2012 and claimed a speed of 65mph.  The image timestamps are given to 3 decimal places, giving a time interval of 0.500 seconds.  You can see from the images the distance traveled is about 1/2 the length of the trailer.  
A vehicle traveling 65mph would travel 47.7 feet in 0.5 seconds. The trailer on a typical 18-wheel semi is 53 feet long.  Half the length of such a trailer would be only 26 or 27 feet.  A trailer long enough for 1/2 its length to equate to that speed would need to be close to twice the road legal length in MD.  In addition, the second image shows a second vehicle following the truck, a portion of the vehicle is in the first image as well.  While the car is not sufficiently in frame in both images to estimate its speed, you certainly cannot conclude from this that the truck was traveling far faster than the prevailing speed of traffic.  The VIDEO captured by this camera seems to support that:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Montgomery County Council President Seeks Gas Tax Hike

Dissatisfied by the state legislature's unwillingness to increase gas taxes state wide this past year, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berlinger is seeking authority to allow county lawmakers to unilaterally impose higher gas taxes in the county.
"I've been a strong proponent of an increase in the statewide gas tax, but if Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore or other communities don't share that desire and we can't get that to pass, then I see no reason why Montgomery County shouldn't be able to go forward and have a gas tax of comparable nature," Berlinger was quoted by the Washington Examiner
Unlike a statewide tax, a county tax would allow Montgomery to keep all of the revenue, Berliner said.
Read Complete story on the Washington Examiner

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Optotraffic Makes Ohio Town Part of Maryland

Maryland welcomes the addition of its newest town, Elmwood Place Ohio, courtesy of speed camera contractor Optotraffic.

The Maryland based contractor has expanded their business to Ohio, and their cameras have been issuing thousands of tickets in the town of Elmwood Place Ohio, where the company is "operating" the cameras.  However to simplify their business model, Optotraffic has made Elmwood Place a part of Maryland, with the issued citations stating the location of the offense was "Elmwood Place, MD", not Ohio, according to a story on WCPO.

WCPO states that one of Elmwood Place's three cameras was taken out of service by Optotraffic, without explanation from the town.

According to WLWT news finances apparently played a roll in the decision to deploy the cameras. "There's no denying raising revenue is what prompted this," said Councilman Jerald Robertson. "We are in very bad financial shape."
WCPO also noted that one of the cameras was deployed on private property without getting permission from the owner.

Welcome to Maryland Elmwood Place!!!  We hope you have better luck than some of Optotraffic's old customers.

Monday, October 1, 2012

DC Government Rolls Around in Big Pile of Speed Camera Money

(updated 10/21)
The DC government raked in a record $85 million in photo ticketing fines during the fiscal year ending July 2012, according to the Washington Examiner.  This amount was up from $55million the year before.  The city had initially reported $65 worth of revenue, but the figure went up substantially when the final numbers came in.

The city reportedly experienced a $23million surge in camera revenue towards the end of the year, contributing to the city running a substantial budget surplus.  This brings DC one step closer to their ultimate goal of charging motorists and other US taxpayers admission to the nation's capital.  Mayor Gray previously stated his desire to 'cover the city" in speed cameras.

Meanwhile, the federal investigation into Mayor Gray's Campaign continues.