Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Special Thanks

This website would like to offer its thanks to the state lawmakers who had the clarity of foresight to sponsor House Bill 1044 in the last Maryland General Assembly session:   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, Nancy R. Stocksdale

HB1044 was intended to fix some of the gaping flaws in the state's speed camera law which have degraded the legal rights of honest, safe motorists.  It would have included several provisions which might have addressed problems currently being seen:
  • Stricter standards would have been imposed on the testing and certification of speed camera equipment
  • Courts would have been required to consider citation images as secondary evidence of speed and consider this to be exonerating if the timestamped images did not prove speeding
  • Closed the loophole allowing arrangements such as the per-ticket bounty which Baltimore City paid Xerox Corp
  • Records pertaining to speed cameras would  be required to be kept on file and required to be disclosed in response to a public information act request.
Recent events make clear how badly change of this sort is needed in order to correct the deep flaws in Maryland's system, and some did see this before now.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Xerox Admits 5% Error Rate

Baltimore City's Speed camera Vendor, Xerox Corporation, has admitted that at five of the city's speed camera locations over five percent of citations issued were in fact the result of errors.

In the two page report released by Xerox, the company stated that they had examined a total of 7000 citations and concluded that at five locations 5.2% of citations were errors that slipped through the review process and were issued.
Report on Camera Errors By Xerox, see PDF version here
"In a limited number of cased, radar effects can occur.  Radar effects are caused by reflection, refraction and absorption"... 
"Based on review of the images alone, we identified five (5) locations that demonstrated higher incidents of radar effects than is typical and need further investigation to determine the root cause."... 
"As part of the review, Xerox examined over seven thousand issued citations for radar effects that may have resulted in erroneous speed recordings.  With respect to seventy eight percent of the eighty three (83) locations, the review showed incidence of radar effects that were not identified in processing of approximately one-half of one percent (.5%).  Five (5) of the eighty-three(83) sites revealed some environmental issues causing an unusually high rate of occurrence of radar effects, typically attributed to the presence of high profile vehicles in the field of view.  A more extensive review of these locations showed incidence of radar effects that were not identified in processing of 5.2 percent (5.2%). The five locations are
* 1400 Block of Cold Spring Lane E/B
* 1700 Block of Cold Spring Lane W/B
* 400 Block of Franklin Street W/B
* 500 Block of Cold Spring Lane E/B
* 1300 Block of Cold Spring Lane E/B

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Baltimore Camera Cited Non-Moving Car For Speeding

Baltimore City's speed camera program continues to be pummeled by bad news about erroneous speed camera readings.  The Baltimore Sun reports that one camera located at 1700 E Cold Spring Lane issued a speed camera citation to a Mazda 5 which was STATIONARY at the time.  The citation, dated April 24 2012, accused the vehicle of traveling 38mph in a 25mph zone, when in fact both the citation images and the recorded video prove it was completely stopped at a red light and not moving at the time.  The motorist in question requested a court hearing, scheduled for December 14.

You can see the video and citation images in the article on the Baltimore Sun website.

Baltimore city claimed to the Baltimore Sun that every citation goes through "two layers of review".  Every citation is required to bear the signature of a police officer who affirmed "based on inspection of recorded images" that the cited vehicle was in violation, according to state law.

The erroneous speed readings by Baltimore cameras were first discovered to have affected large vehicles such as trucks and delivery vans passing one camera at 1300 W Cold Spring Lane.  However the Baltimore Sun investigation has since concluded that apparent speed measurement errors have occurred with at least 7 cameras and have affected regular passenger cars as well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

O'Malley Says Speed Camera Programs Shouldn't Pay Per Ticket

The Baltimore Sun reports that Governor O'Malley has stated that speed camera programs should not pay their contractors on a per ticket basis, a type of contract which is now common throughout the state.
"Gov. Martin O'Malley said Tuesday that state law bars speed camera contractors from being paid based on the number of citations issued or paid — a so-called bounty system approach used by Baltimore City, Baltimore County and elsewhere in Maryland.
"The law says you're not supposed to charge by volume. I don't think we should charge by volume," O'Malley said. "If any county is, they need to change their program.""
This would be the first time that Governor O'Malley, who signed statewide speed cameras into law in 2009, has publicly spoken out against a practice by local governments which is now commonplace throughout the state despite a provision of the law which was intended to ban it.

State law contains a provision that "If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."  Fiscal policy notes from various speed camera bills and comments from some lawmakers in 2008 confirm the intent of this was to prevent contractors from being paid a cut of each ticket.  However NUMEROUS speed camera programs in the state circumvent this rule by claiming that they, not their contractor "operate" the cameras.  This is despite the fact that the contractors have typically substantial control over the machines, and are often responsible for deploying and maintaining cameras, arranging to have cameras calibrated, as well as in some cases defining the nature of the calibration tests, and in some cases also performing processing and mailing of violations and scheduling of court hearings.  (The actual contractor responsibilities vary from one program to another.)

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.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Emails Reveal More Prior Complaints From Erroneous Baltimore Camera

 We previously reported that Baltimore City had a previous complaint about an error by a camera at 1300 West Cold Spring Lane that was discussed by city officials and their contractor Xerox Corp (formerly ACS State and Local Solutions) in February and March of 2012 -- the local press and city officials have since confirmed the existence of such errors.  Now, additional documents have been provided to StopBigBrotherMD.org which document that problems by this camera were ongoing, and were known to officials in Baltimore City Officials in July of 2012.

The following email was obtained through a Public Information Act Request by a reader of StopBigBrotherMD.org and was then provided to us.  We have redacted the names of city employees and the company making the complaint, but the company is a different one than those which we have reported on previously or which have been named in major press reports.

The emails document a complain received from a Virginia-based trucking company on July 13 regarding a citation they received dated 6/28/2012 of West Cold Spring Lane, claiming their truck had been traveling 70mph in a 35mph school zone.  "I have a concern about the speed of 70MPH our truck was clocked at in a 35mph zone.  I would like to confirm that radar unit is working properly and the speed is accurate.  Our truck speed is set at 65mph on the ECM."  Many trucks have ECMs (Engine Control Modules) programmed to act as speed limiters, so that the vehicle cannot exceed the programmed speed.  In a follow up email, the company points out that the tractor trailer was in the right lane preparing to make a turn.  "We have a real issue with our driver if he was in fact going that fast", alluding to the possible consequences to a professional driver accused of traveling at twice the posted speed limit.

On July 13, city engineers forwarded the complaint to employees at Xerox Corp: Ryan Nicolas and Donovan Wilson.  "Ryan and Donovan, Please see email below and copy of citation attached, this is a concern and we need to resolve this issue before it gets out of hand.  We have already supplied the information of several citations with similar issue of erroneous high speed being recorded at Coldspring and Grand View which is very difficult at this location, please have system checked out and update."

As of July 24, the matter was still not resolved.  The company wrote "Due date is 7-25... yikes!! That's tomorrow.  Do we get an extension on paying this?"  The city responded, copying ACS "We have completed our investigation and will get back to you soon with the results.  Thank you for your patience."

However the investigation is still ongoing as of December.  The Baltimore Sun has reported there are indications the errors may not be limited to trucks, and may have affected passenger cars as well.