Friday, April 11, 2014

Legislature Fails to Pass Meaningful Speed Camera Reform

After revelations of industrial scale false accusations against motorists by Baltimore City's failed speed camera program, problems with calibration of equipment in Greenbelt, Hagerstown, and Salisbury, and complaints about alleged speed camera errors in locations such places as Montgomery County, Morningside, and Wicomico County, there was much talk about how the legislature would "reform" the state's speed camera law.  In the end the state legislature did pass a bill alleged to reform the state's speed camera law, which is now on it's way to the Governor, and this is the least they could do. We mean that quite literally... they couldn't have passed a weaker and less meaningful reform bill if they had tried.

The bill,. House Bill 929, was was written largely based input from local governments such as Montgomery County.  The bill's chief sponsor, Environmental Matters Committee Vice Chair Delegate Malone, openly stated at the beginning of the bill's February 18th hearing that no other speed camera bill but his own that he wanted people testifying to simply say "me too".  In the Motor vehicle's subcommittee meeting that follows, Malone further stated that he didn't think people with complaints about speed camera programs should take those concerns to the legislature, specifically citing that one motorist who had come with a complaint about Morningside's speed camera programs should have simply taken it up with the mayor of the town.  It should be no surprise that the foundation of this bill is that local speed camera programs will all continue to police themselves with no meaningful oversight, and that "business as usual' must continue without interruption.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

DC Mayor Gray Proposes More Speed Camera Fines To Balance Budget

Outgoing DC Mayor Vincent Gray has proposed a budget which increases collections from camera fines by $50million, according to a report on NBCWashington.
Gray said his budget is balanced in part by that steep rise in speed camera fines from more speed cameras on different streets at different times. The mayor's budget director said Motorists too often avoid permanent cameras, said the mayor’s budget director, Eric Goulet.
“What you've found as residents, when the mayor goes out and when I’ve been at budget town halls, particularly, complain about people slowing down for the fixed traffic cameras and then speeding up as soon as those are and then speeding through neighborhoods,” Goulet said.
At-large Council member David Catania, an independent candidate for mayor, suggested the city ought to better warn motorists.
“I think we need to do a public service announcement, to some extent, or a push that lets people know this because nothing makes people angrier than this gotcha mentality of this government that balances its budgets by these kinds of mechanisms,” Catania said.
The proposed budget increases "automated enforcement" revenues from $105 million in FY 2014 to a goal of $155 million in FY15, a 47% increase.  The FY14 budgeted amount was a $30 million increase from FY13.

Mayor Gray recently lost DC's democratic primary to Muriel Bowser, after prosecutors alleged that Gray  knew about an illegal fundraising operation that helped him capture the 2010 election.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Rockville Cameras Ticket For Right Turn After Full Stop

We have previously reported how red light cameras in the city of Rockville saw vastly increased revenues after they began ticketing motorists for making slow moving right turns in right turn lanes on red.  WTOP has reported in an instance where a motorists received such a citation when making a full stop, albeit slightly past the line, indicating they are now using cameras to enforce the strict letter of the law.

In the incident in question the video showed the vehicle came to a full stop, but after the stop line.  The video did not show the vehicle actually proceeding through the turn.  In the particular case in question no pedestrians were present, the car was not blocking a cross walk, and snow piled up along the side of the road could have made it difficult for any motorist to see into a crosswalk from behind the line.

Right turn on red is legal in Maryland but requires motorists to first make a full stop "behind a clearly marked stop line" before proceeding.  However Rockville is apparently now supporting a strict interpretation of this, ticketing for such technical violations even when the motorist did make a full stop.

Rockville police defended the decision to issue this ticket:  "The law requires a complete cessation of movement. If the vehicle is completely passed the stop bar, yes, the driver will get a ticket. But we will not ticket if part of the vehicle is behind the stop bar" says Rockville City Maj. Michael England.

The motorist disagreed that the ticket was about safety: "I don't run red lights. I'm a safe driver. I didn't really pay much attention to the white stripe because I was interested in safely turning and not running into the traffic that is crossing, or hit any pedestrians," he says. "I understand the text of the law. But I think the spirit of the law is about safe driving and if you view the video, I think there's no question I was driving in a safe fashion."

Data published by the NHTSA found that accidents involving a right turns on red (under all types of conditions combined) accounted for an extremely small percentage of accidents (0.05% in one study) and also among signalized intersection crashes (0.4%).

In 2012, prior to implementing stricter right turn on red policies, earned approximately $630,000 in red light camera revenues off of an estimated 8,280 citations, according to the FY13 budget.  The city's FY15 budget estimates that the city is bringing in $1,800,000... 2.8 times as much... off of an estimated 21,000 citations.

Decisions to implement such policies are made by elected officials.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, Councilmembers Feinberg, Moore, Onley and Carr

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

National News: South Dakota Bans Enforcement of Photo Tickets

South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard (R) has signed one of the strongest photo ticketing bans in the nation. Not only will red light cameras be banned in South Dakota, but South Dakota residents will be immune to automated citations issued in most other states.
Lawmakers in Pierre overwhelmingly favored a straightforward ban on the use of red light cameras. Earlier this month, the state Senate voted 26 to 9 on the ban that had cleared the state House in February by a 69 to 1 margin.
"No state, county, municipal, or township authority may contract with any private corporation to provide for the use of any photo monitoring device to detect any red light violation," the new law, House Bill 1100, states.
South Dakota's experiment in photo ticketing ended in 2010 after a circuit court judge struck down the red light camera operation in Sioux Falls as illegal (view decision). The judge ruled that the city violated state law in creating a program that turned the misdemeanor of red light running into a civil penalty without authorization from the legislature.
The governor went further however, proposing to ban enforcement of speed cameras citations issued by the next door state of Iowa on highways traveling between the two states, by blocking photo ticketing companies from converting license plate numbers into the name and address of South Dakota Vehicle Owners.  A second bill, HB1122, was created and approved, which forbids turning information over to NLETS, a system used by photo enforcement companies for processing tickets.  House Bill 1122 states:
"The Department of Public Safety and the Division of Motor Vehicles shall not provide information used to impose or collect a civil fine that results from a violation captured by a red light camera or speed camera through any existing interstate compact that does not specifically allow, or require, information to be shared for that explicit purpose." 
The statutes will take effect on July 1.

While Maryland has seemed to be an exception, the number of communities using red light cameras in the US actually declined by 6% in 2013.  Some photo enforcement companies have begun to see their revenues stagger as a result of this decline, and also because of serious problems with large municipal camera programs in Baltimore and Chicago.