Thursday, August 29, 2013

First DC Stop Sign Camera Goes Up

DC has now deployed their first stop sign camera.  The device, designed to ticket people who make "california rolls" has been deployed  at the corner of Kansas Avenue and Buchanan Street NW.

Stop Sign Cameras have been in use in some California jurisdictions for some time.  The seven stop sign cameras located in one Santa Monica Mountain park issued $2.8million worth of tickets in FY10.  Where they have been used, they have been criticized because those jurisdictions were ticketing vehicles that stopped 'a foot over the white line' or 'slowly rolled through' stop signs, leaving it clear this would be the use of the devices.  The group 'Safer Streets LA' wrote about the issuance of $175 tickets for violations like this one:

They also wrote about the placement of a stop sign camera on a 'crosswalk to nowhere'.

DC Police plan to add a total of 132 new cameras of various sorts, a move which will roughly double the number of traffic enforcement camera in effect.  DC recently deployed "oversized vehicle" cameras aimed at fining trucks for driving on residential roads and is reportedly considering cameras to catch people who "block the box" as part of their continuing continuing efforts to charge admission to the nation's capital, er I mean "to improve safety".

Saturday, August 24, 2013

College Park Agrees To Move Speed Trap Camera

According to a report on WTOP, the City of College Park has agreed to move a speed camera which motorists have complained is located immediately within a "transition zone".  The camera, currently located at 3300 Metzerott became the subject of a WTOP Ticketbuster investigation after complaints that it was located so close to the end of a 30mph speed limit zone that motorists were facing a 40mph sign, a sign which would even appear within some of the speeding citation.

"Recently the city was notified that some drivers may be confused about the speed limit on Metzerott Road at the location of the westbound speed camera. This is the first time in three years of operation of this camera that the city has been made aware of this concern." wrote City Manager Joseph Nagro in a statement to WTOP News, "While the placement of the camera is legal, the city wishes to avoid any possible confusion about the speed limit in this area. As a result of an evaluation of alternative sites, the city intends to move the westbound camera to a location farther east, as determined by the traffic engineers"

The decision to move the camera is a significant change of tone from the city.  The camera location had been previously criticized by our website, due to inconsistencies between the current signage and the signage shown on city's permit application, which we had obtained in early 2011 after receiving complaints from motorists (the city's position is that there was no change to speed limits in this location).  The Diamondback reported in 2010 how the city council had received complaints about the location being a "speed trap", which had issued over 8,600 citations in less than its first month of operation.  AAA held a press conference at the location in 2011 complaining that it did not meet standards for camera placement.   WTOP investigated the location this year, and officials from some other jurisdictions agreed that the location of this camera would not have been considered appropriate under their rules.

College Park has stated they still consider the original camera placement to have been legal and it is not anticipated that refunds will be made for citations issued at the location.

Read Report on WTOP

Friday, August 23, 2013

Salisbury Resident Complains About Camera Accuracy

A Salisbury resident wrote a letter to the editor appearing on the website.
Yes, there are others who were not traveling at the rate of speed the summons said they were. I was also sent a notice from a camera and picture that said my car was going 52 mph in a 35 mph zone. 
I am 76 years old and don’t go 52 mph anywhere. Now, what speed was I going? I don’t know because it was a while after the day I was taking my 88-year-old husband to the doctor, and who remembers that?  
But I am sure it was not 52 mph. I paid the fine because I knew I could not prove my actual speed. There should be a way to be certain those cameras are calibrated regularly.
The Maryland Drivers Alliance has been tracking Salisbury's program closely in recent weeks.  The Maryland Drivers Alliance chairman had filed a Public Information Act Request for annual calibration certificates and a small number of 'daily setup' logs from the city.  Salisbury responded stating that they had no such records on file.  Their contractor, Brekford Corp, then demanded a $535 tribute be paid to the speed camera company in order to see the documents.  Another motorist requested similar records, and the city initially denied his request as well.  The city eventually provided only one of the four setup logs that motorist requested, with an email from the city stating that the other three logs did not appear to exist.

During the last session State lawmakers rejected proposed legislation which would have provided "a way to be certain" that cameras were accurate, in the form of requiring citations to provide enough information to verify speed.  The amendment was killed primarily at the insistence of Montgomery County, the Maryland Association of Counties, and the Maryland Department of Transportation, who prefer the current situation where the government agencies and speed camera contractors which profit from speed cameras can maintain a monopoly on evidence which could prove errors.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Metzerott Road Camera Under Fire

A motorist is questioning the placement of a speed camera on Metzerott Road in College Park, according to a story on WTOP.  The camera is enforcing a 30mph speed limit in both directions.  However in the westbound direction, the camera is located so close to the end of the 30mph zone that a 40mph sign is actually shown in the citation images.

WTOP reported that two Prince George's county police officers said such a camera would not have been placed in such a location , however the officers requested anonymity.  "It's very important to have your speed camera locations to be perceived as being fair. Having a camera within view of a sign where the speed limited increases may be technically legal, but it is not perceived as being fair. I can understand why some drivers would be upset," says one officer.  "I would agree that this camera being less than 150 feet from the 40 mph speed limit sign is unfair and probably not good practice," says the other officer.  

College Park officials told Fox 5 news that they 'have gotten very few complaints about the speed camera".   But in fact this very location came under substantial public fire in 2011 for much the same reason.  These complaints had been reported in 2011 in the Washington Post, on WJLA, and in The Sentinel.  The Diamondback reported in 2010 how motorists were complaining about being 'caught by surprise' at this location, that one councilwoman had received "several complaints from her constituents", and that 8,000 motorists were ticketed in the first 22 days this camera had been in operation. But College Park itself has "gotten very few complaints".  Right.  I suppose the fact that there's no official place to register a complaint and ensure it will be "put on record" makes it easy to make such a claim. However several drivers had complained to our website about this specific location in 2010 and 2011.  When we obtained the city's permit request for this location, we discovered that the current speed limit boundaries were different than those shown on the permit application, which was also supported by a traffic survey provided by the city. College Park says that no speed limits were changed at this location.  

The WTOP TicketBuster story includes a video showing how short the distance between the camera and sign really is.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Morningside Admits Maintaining No Calibration Records, Doesn't Operate Own Cameras

The Attorney for the Town of Morningside has stated in response to a Public Information Act Request that Morningside is not the "operator" of the speed monitoring systems it runs and that it does not maintain any calibration records or daily setup logs for their cameras.

We filed a request for the following under Maryland Public Information Act(MPIA):
 1)    The annual calibration certificates for ALL speed monitoring systems used by Morningside during any portion of 2011, 2012, or 2013.  Please note that transportation article 21-809 requires annual calibration certificates for speed cameras to be “kept on file”.  I am seeking both current AND expired certificates.
2)    The daily setup/deployment logs for all speed cameras used in Morningside on Suitland Road (all locations and directions) on the following dates:
    a.    September 12, 2012
    b.    November 29, 2012
    c.    November 30, 2012
    d.    January 17, 2013
    e.    February 1, 2013
    f.    March 18, 2013
    g.    May 5, 2013
3)    All correspondence (including letters, emails, and memos) exchanged between the Morningside Police and its speed camera contractor (Brekford) dated from 11/1/2012 through present, pertaining to ‘administrative void’ of speed monitoring system citations or requesting that speed monitoring system citations be voided or refunded.
Letter from Morningside Attorney
The request was sent to Morningside by email on June 5, 2013, and again by certified mail which was received and signed for by the town on June 10.  The MPIA requires local governments to provide access to public records within 30 days except those falling within specific categories which are not disclosable.  On August 5, 60 days after we first sent our request, we received the following from the Town of Morningside's Attorney:
"Please be advised that the Town of Morningside is not the speed monitoring system operator as that term is defined in the Maryland Annotated Code, and, therefore, the Town of Morningside does not maintain the records and documents pursuant to your request."

In a separate email, the town attorney also stated that "we do not have any of the documents that you are requesting especially since the cameras are managed through an outside entity".

Maryland Law requires the following:
(3)   A speed monitoring system operator shall fill out and sign a daily set–up log for a speed monitoring system that:
(i)   States that the speed monitoring system operator successfully performed the manufacturer–specified self–test of the speed monitoring system prior to producing a recorded image;
(ii)   Shall be kept on file; and
(iii)   Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section.
(4)    (i)   A speed monitoring system shall undergo an annual calibration check performed by an independent calibration laboratory.
(ii)   The independent calibration laboratory shall issue a signed certificate of calibration after the annual calibration check that:
1.   Shall be kept on file; and
2.   Shall be admitted as evidence in any court proceeding for a violation of this section.
After the denial, we requested a copy of the town's speed camera contract, which Morningside did agree to provide.  The document stated that the city pays Brekford corporation a 40% cut of collected ticket revenues, plus a $1.50 fee per ticket for the first 25,000 tickets.

Maryland law contains the following provision: "(2)   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."  However most jurisdictions do in fact issue contractors a cut of each ticket on the grounds that they claim the local government rather than the contractor "operates" the cameras.  (Also, in Maryland local governments apparently don't have to follow the requirements of the law if they don't want to, because the state did not choose to include an enforcement mechanism).

Morningside also claimed not to have any records or communications discussing the 'administrative void" of citations.  Morningside's speed camera program has voided some citations.  One motorist contacted us and provided a copy of a void notice he received after requesting a court hearing.
Administrative Void Letter
Another citation received by the same motorist was thrown out in court because of insufficient evidence.  The images of the citation dismissed in court is shown below.
Note the presence of a second vehicle traveling on the cross street, hidden in the first image but clearly shown in the second.  Having two vehicles in frame is generally not acceptable for a radar device because radar extends out in a 'cone' and cannot distinguish the speeds of two vehicles close together.  A composite image we created is shown below:
The vehicle was charged with traveling 50mph in a 30.  The time interval shown between frames was 0.5s.  For a vehicle to be traveling 50mph, it would need to have traveled 36.6 feet, well over 2 car lengths.

In the voided citation, the motorist was charged with traveling 49mph in a 30.
'Cross Traffic' can clearly be seen moving at freeway speeds on the I-495 overpass in the same image.   For a vehicle to be traveling 49mph, it would need to have traveled 35.9 feet in 0.5s.  You judge: did this vehicle travel a distance equal to well over 2 vehicle lengths?

Whether any of this poses a legal problem for Morningside has yet to be seen. Local speed camera programs in Maryland enjoy a form of government immunity from most liability, and the requirements of Maryland's speed camera law do not have any enforcement mechanism built in.  Thank the state lawmakers who created Maryland's speed camera law for that.  However recipients of tickets from Morningside may seriously want to consider contesting tickets to avoid 'admitting guilt' by paying.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

DC Deploys 'Oversized Vehicle Cameras'

DC has deployed the first in a new generation of 'oversized vehicle cameras' which will ticket vehicles exceeding size limits on certain local roads.

The device deployed at 42nd and Van Ness st were thought by many to be the much anticipated 'stop sign cameras', since they were deployed near a stop sign intersection.  However city officials reported to WJLA that the devices were actually intended to issue tickets to 'oversized' trucks.

According to a report on CNSWashington, the city plans to roll out eight of the devices which will issue $150 tickets.  The devices are still in testing mode and the city stated to WJLA that they have not yet issued tickets.

The devices are similar to 'vehicle height monitoring systems' which were approved by the Maryland Legislature for use in Baltimore City in 2012 with almost no public scrutiny or fanfare.. drawing the attention of some commercial trucking organizations, and our site, but pretty much nobody else.

However since you probably don't drive a large truck or bus, you probably won't be getting any tickets from this particular new device yourself.  Thus you can ignore any concerns about how the device can actually tell whether a vehicle is 'oversized', how it is calibrated, what rules they actually need to follow, what level of due process ticket recipients will be offered, whether roads where the devices are deployed have adequate notice of the restrictions or the presence of the devices for truck drivers, or whether 'oversized vehicles' actually constitute anything like a significant safety issue in these locations.  There's nothing to worry about since public officials in DC never act in any way which doesn't have the public's best interest at heart, and it probably only affects the drivers of commercial vehicles anyways.  You can just go back to more important stuff like playing Angry Birds or tweeting about whether A-Rod should have been let back in the game.

The city does still have plans in the works to deploy stop sign cameras very soon to issue tickets to vehicles for performing a 'California roll' rather than a 100% stop (which is probably you even though you don't always realize you are doing it), and also cameras for violations such as 'blocking the box'.  If you get a ticket from those and don't think it was fair, then I guess you'd better not expect commercial truck drivers to stick up for you either.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Charles County Speed Camera Tickets Voided

Charles County temporarily suspended its speed camera program and will be voiding thousands of citations after it was discovered that several of the "school zone" speed cameras were in fact not inside a school zone at all.

The SHA made the discovery after the cameras had been operating on Berry Road (Route 228) outside the posted school zone they were intended to be placed in for over a year.  Speed cameras in most parts of the state (with the notable exception of Montgomery County) 

Approximately 4000 citations issued to motorists who had been wrongly accused of speeding inside a school zone will have their citations either refunded or voided.  About 3300 citations were already paid, as most motorists pay speed camera citations without question.

Charles county has thus far been running a relatively small program, with only 3 speed cameras so far.  It is unknown how long the cameras will be shut down.

Several motorists rejoiced the decision on camera to WJLA:  “I think it’s very unfair and that it needs to be taken out,” says Deborah Smalls. “The citizens are being taken advantage of.”
“I think they’re all about money, getting money,” says Megan Battaglia. “Money-hungry people.

WTOP has reported that Motorists who have received a citation from the speed camera at westbound Berry Road/Route 228 have been advised NOT to pay them.  Citations from this camera will be voided.  Charles County has set up an answer line at (301) 609-5971 / (301) 609-5972 Monday - Friday 8am-4pm to answer questions about the citations.

Additional Coverage: