Saturday, March 16, 2013

House, Senate Committees Prepare to Rule on Speed Camera Legislation

The Maryland House Environmental Matters and Senate Judicial Proceedings Committees are still pondering legislation to reform or repeal the state's speed camera law.  However as time passes, prospects are dimming that meaningful reform will be passed this session.

These bills were largely prompted by revelations that Baltimore City and speed camera contractor Xerox Corp had systematically issued erroneous speed camera tickets to hundreds of innocent motorists, and that the error producing camera was left in operation for many months after the city and Xerox were aware of the problems, as proven by emails from March 2012 and July 2012.  The same types of cameras which issued these erroneous citations are also used in Baltimore County and Rockville, and the same contractor runs speed camera programs under Montgomery County, Bowie, Frederick, and the SHA.  The legislation was also prompted by an audit of the SHA's speed camera program which documented improprieties in the procurement of their speed camera contract and the testing and certification of equipment.

 In the senate, a bill sponsored by Senator Pipkin to repeal speed cameras (SB785) is being considered, along with a credible reform bill (SB207) sponsored by Senator Brochin(D, Baltimore County).  We presented testimony in support of these two bills on February 20.

In the House, credible repeal legislation (HB421) sponsored by Delegate John Cardin, and a repeal bill (HB 251) is being sponsored by Delegate Michael Smigiel.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance presented testimony in support of these two bills and supporting three other reform measures.

SB207 and HB 421 both contain the two key elements which any credible reform legislation MUST have:
1) ending the bounty system (ie paying contractors based on the number of tickets issued) once and for all
2) requiring that speed camera images provide "secondary evidence of speed"

However it appears that the House Committee may be posed to reject all of the credible reform bills, and instead pass House Bill 929, sponsored by committee Vice Chair James Malone.  A press release by Delegate Cardin stating that he believes this is the only speed camera bill the committee is prepared to pass.

The problem is that as originally written House Bill 959 IS NOT a speed camera reform bill.  The bill merely makes minor cosmetic tweeks to the wording of a few requirements.  Some of these changes might possibly make things ever so slightly better or worse, but none of which would have a significant impact on how speed cameras are run or the level of justice people receive.  HB929, as originally worded, does nothing to address the problems uncovered in Baltimore City.  It does nothing to address the issues raised in the recent audit of the SafeZones Program.  And it does nothing to address the extensive problems that we have uncovered elsewhere in the state over the past five years.  T

he Maryland Drivers Alliance has spent a long time considering all the effects of the various speed camera bills in play this year.  And we believe passing HB929 in its current form would have only one practical effect: To provide a smoke-screen to deceive the public into thinking lawmakers did something to address the issues recently uncovered in Baltimore when in fact they did nothing.  Of course it is still possible that some of the key provisions of reform could be added to HB929 as amendments.  However trying to pass off legislation which does not contain the two key provisions of ending the bounty system and requiring secondary evidence of speed as "reform" of the system would be an act of FRAUD against the driving public.

Regarding the matter of the Bounty System, delegate Cardin wrote "Bounty programs undermine public confidence by creating a perverse incentive to issue citations whether warranted or not.  Instead, we should be sure that a contractor’s fee is not contingent on the number of citations issued or paid."  Indeed it is the position of the Maryland Drivers Alliance that Baltimore's former speed camera contractor was motivated to keep faulty equipment in the field months after they knew it was producing errors by their contingent fee contract.

Had there been no secondary evidence of speed with Baltimore City's camera program, the city would have gone right on issuing erroneous citations to innocent motorists.  The press would have been none the wiser, and the city and Xerox Corp would have denied all errors.  And we know that there are in fact many speed camera programs in the state which deny the use of speed camera photos as evidence of speed (just as Optotraffic and Forest Heights denied citation images could be used as proof of speed AFTER people started presenting proof of errors).  Some speed camera programs DELIBERATELY round off image timestamps (including the SafeZones program) thereby ensuring that images cannot be used to verify speed.

With the pathetically weak certification and testing requirements under Maryland law, it is inevitable that motorists elsewhere in the state will be falsely accused.  Without secondary evidence of speed, there is no way to distinguish between actual violations and "false triggers".  Based on what happened in Baltimore City there is now no question that speed cameras can produce errors EVEN WHEN ALL CALIBRATION TESTS HAVE PASSED.  And documents released by Cheverly revealing camera errors prove that other types of cameras (run by speed camera contractor Optotraffic) have produced "false triggers" as well.

Such a situation is particularly bad for professional drivers, who could be fired over speed camera tickets.  We have been contacted several times in the past about bus drivers who were fired over camera tickets.

Secondary evidence of speed is spelled out in radar performance specifications written by the NHTSA: “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."  So if the legislature rejects secondary evidence of speed, they will be rejecting the application of national standards.

If lawmakers reject the idea of requiring citation images to provide "secondary evidence of speed, it will have rejected true reform  If state lawmakers reject true reform, they will have embraced the idea that falsely accused motorists should be required to "suck it up and pay", since there will be no evidence which can clear them.  If the requirement for secondary evidence of speed is rejected we believe the motive behind it will be obvious : They are afraid systematic errors will be uncovered in other speed camera programs if motorists have access to this kind of potentially exonerating evidenceOpponents of secondary evidence want to conceal potentially exonerating evidence from defendants and let them all be presumed guilty.

 In so doing they will have proven the case as to why speed cameras should be repealed.  

Motorists who want their legal rights protected should contact the members of the house and senate committees NOW.  Not someone else, not sometime later.  You. Now.  Tell them that if they will not pass Delegate Cardin's bill (HB421) or Delegate Brochin's Bill (SB207), then the state speed camera law should be REPEALED. 

Environmental Matters Committee Members:

Judicial Proceedings Members

In addition, motorists who care about their legal rights should be aware that AAA Mid Atlantic Supported statewide speed cameras in 2009 and testified in opposition to speed camera repeal legislation this year.  While AAA testified in support of reform legislation on March 5, they also chose to stand against the motorists who came on their own behalf to speak in favor of repeal, and instead chose to side with representatives of the corrupt speed camera program of Forest Heights (these were the only two organizations to testify against repeal bill HB251 on March 5, and no private citizens came to testify against it on their own behalf).  Contact AAA Mid Atlantic and inform them that:  Any Organization which truly speaks for Motorists must support the repeal of speed cameras if Maryland Lawmakers do not pass REAL speed camera reform this year.  If Maryland lawmakers do not pass real, substantial reform this year and AAA still supports cameras, then AAA will have proven it does not support speed cameras "if they are done right" but in fact "even if they are done wrong".  If that is case, "Insurance Company AAA" will have forever abandoned its credentials as "Motorist Organization AAA".  This issue is NOT a "bargaining chip"!