Thursday, January 30, 2014

Speed Camera Repeal Bill Introduced in the House

A bill which would repeal the use of speed cameras in the state of Maryland has been introduced into the House of Delegates.

The Bill, designated as House Bill 551, is sponsored by Delegate Mike Smigiel (R, Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties).  The co-sponsors of the bill are:
Kathy Afzali (Frederick County) Susan K. McComas(Harford County)
Steven J. Arentz (Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties) Tony McConkey(Anne Arundel County)
Gail H. Bates(Howard County) Michael A. McDermott(Wicomico and Worcester Counties)
Wendell R. Beitzel (Allegany and Garrett Counties) Wayne Norman(Harford County)
John W. E. Cluster, Jr.(Baltimore County) Anthony J. O'Donnell(St. Mary's and Calvert Counties)
Adelaide C. Eckardt (Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico Counties) Nathaniel T. Oaks(Baltimore City)
Mark N. Fisher(Calvert County) Charles J. Otto(Somerset and Wicomico Counties
William Frank (Baltimore County) Steven R. Schuh(Anne Arundel County)
Patrick N. Hogan (Frederick County) Kelly Schulz(Frederick County
Jay A. Jacobs (Kent, Queen Anne's, Cecil, and Caroline Counties) Nancy R. Stocksdale(Carroll County
Susan W. Krebs(Carroll County) Cathy Vitale(Anne Arundel County)


The bill comes amid new concerns about a secret audit of Baltimore City's former speed camera program, which revealed that cameras run by the city's former contractor, Xerox Corp, may have had error rates as high as ten percent and resulted in as many as seventy thousand wrongful tickets in one year (the equivalent of $2.8 million in ticket fines).  Errors by Baltimore City's program included tickets given to stationary cars and to trucks which videos show were traveling only half the speed they were accused of.  Such errors occurred even though the devices passed all their calibration tests, which authorities had continually assured the public would guarantee accuracy.

In addition, there have been recent accusations of errors in other parts of the state such as Morningside , Montgomery County, and in Wicomico County (where 17 employees of a local school accused a nearby speed camera of issuing erroneous citations).  In addition, some local governments have attempted to block access to information about their programs and held secret meetings which the public and press were not allowed to observe.

Another bill (labeled HB 526 and sponsored by delegates Smigiel, Afzali, Anderson, Arentz, Bates, Cluster, Conaway, Frank, Hogan, Jacobs, Krebs, McComas, McConkey, McDermott, Norman, O'Donnell, Oaks, Otto, Schulz, Stocksdale, and Vitale), seeks to address the issue of erroneous tickets by requiring each camera to capture a video image (similar to videos currently captured by red light cameras).  It was the videos captured by Baltimore City's speed cameras which irrefutably proved that speed measurement errors had been occurring in Baltimore City, particularly videos of stationary cars which had been cited for "speeding" while completely stopped at red lights.  The text of HB 526 can be read here.

Delegate Jon Cardin (D, Baltimore County) has sponsored a bill designated at House Bill 57 which seeks to address speed camera errors by requiring citation images to contain enough evidence to verify speed from the images.  Cardin's bill would also impose a fine on contractors who issue wrongful tickets, and would end the practice of paying contractors base on the number of citations.  You can read the text of Cardin's bill here.  “Last year, when we thought error  rates were in the single digits, the citizens of Maryland rightfully responded with outrage at being ripped off” Delegate Cardin said in a statement quoted by the Baltimore Sun, “Now that we know error rates in Baltimore City were actually over 10%, it is time to seriously evaluate the future of these programs statewide. Until we can audit each program and have the ability to hold jurisdictions and speed camera operators accountable, I think we should suspend the use of speed cameras entirely.

Versions of all three of these bills were previously submitted to the House last year, but the House Environmental Matters Committee (chaired by Del Maggie McIntosh - D, Baltimore City) refused to allow any of them to go to the House floor for a vote.  Instead the committee dumped a weak "reform" bill sponsored by committee Vice Chair James Malone (D, Baltimore and Howard Counties) onto the house floor at the very end of the session.  Malone's bill appeared to have been created for the primary purpose of answering the question "how do we do a better job of public relations" while not offending any local governments which used speed cameras.  It did not incorporate the ideas in the other bills for preventing errors or done anything to identify speed measurement errors of the sort which occurred in Baltimore City.

However when Malone's bill came to the floor in the House last year, Delegate Smigiel introduced repeal as an amendment.  The House Voted down that amendment.
The Following Maryland State Delegates Voted to Keep Maryland's Broken Speed Cameras Last Year:
Speaker BuschDeBoyHolmesMiller, A.Stein
AndersonDumaisHowardMitchellStukes
AroraFeldmanHubbardMizeurSummers
BarkleyFrickHuckerMorhaimSwain
BarnesFrushIveyMurphyTarrant
BarveGainesJamesonNathan-PulliamTurner, F.
BeidleGilchristKaiserNiemannTurner, V.
BoboGlennKelly, A.Pena-MelnykValderrama
BranchGriffithKramerPendergrassValentino-Smith
BraveboyGutierrezLaffertyProctorVallario
CaneGuzzoneLeeReznikVaughn
CarrHammenLoveRobinson, B.Waldstreicher
ClippingerHarperLuedtkeRobinson, S.Washington, A.
ConawayHaynesMaloneRosenbergWashington, M.
ConwayHealeyMcHaleRudolphWilson
CullisonHixsonMcIntoshSimmonsZucker



Any speed camera bill introduced into the House will first need to pass the House Environmental Matters Committee to come to a vote in the full house.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Delegates Say 'No Way' To Vehicle-Mile-Traveled Tax

A bill which would ban the creation of a vehicle-miles traveled tax has been introduced in the House of Delegates.

A Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Tax,  is essentially a tax imposed on every mile you drive.  In effect such a road tax would constitute a toll on every single road, with rates set based on where and when the vehicle was driving.

A VMT was proposed as part of the Maryland  Department of Transportation's 2012 implementation report for Maryland's Climate Action Plan, which stated that MDOT wants to “establish a GHG emission-based road user fee (or VMT fee) statewide by 2020 in addition to existing motor fuel taxes."

House Bill 277 seeks to block the implementation of such a tax before it begins.  The bill states:
"The State or a local jurisdiction may not directly or indirectly including through a third-party agreement or as part of a pilot program or study, impose or levy  
    (1) a vehicle-mile traveled tax  
    (2) a mileage-based user fee  
    (3) a global-positioning-satellite tracking based toll  
or  
    (4) any other similar form of tax"
The bill further bans the state or any local jurisdiction from requiring the installation of a device in a private vehicle to facilitate the reporting of vehicle-miles traveled.

Delegate Justin Ready
The bill's main sponsor, Delegate Justin Ready (R, Carroll County), wrote the following about the bill:
I believe this is, first and foremost, a privacy issue. The government has no business learning where law-abiding citizens are driving or how often they use their cars. 
Secondly, we cannot afford more taxes in a state that already overburdens its citizens. 
I have a copy of a report published by MDOT in 2010 that calls for this program to be in place by the end of the decade. So it is very likely that without the legislation that I have put forward, MDOT will be putting it in place by 2020. Oregon has already passed this as a state law and at least two states are piloting this program, but they are looking at it in lieu of gas taxes.  In Maryland it would be added to it.
The idea that a VMT fee might be imposed in Maryland is not at all far fetched.  Maryland just raised the gas tax last year, despite substantial opposition.  The addition of new toll roads such as the ICC which are exclusively electronic payment and not cash might well be a stepping stone to a comprehensive VMT tax.

A similar bill was presented to the legislature in 2013.  The Administration opposed banning a VMT tax and sent the DOT to oppose the bill.   Martin Harris, from the Legislative office of the Maryland Department of Transportation testified why they opposed the bill annd wanted to keep the option for a VMT tax open:
"A major thing that we have with this bill however has to do with as you know there is a lot of discussion about transportation funding and where we're going to go from here.  Vehicle miles traveled is not something that the department is doing right now, it's not something we are actively pursuing, but it is one of a range of options that are being considered not only here in the state of Maryland but as has been mentioned elsewhere in the country.  This is a new and somewhat of an emerging direction and option that is being pursued and looked at for transportation funding, we think we're strongly against any sort of options being limited right now.  These are things that are new and are things that we need to consider as we go forward as we look for new and more sustainable sources of revenue.  We are against it because we need to preserve that option."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Speed Camera Complaints Arise in Baltimore City, Montgomery, Prince George's

Excerpt from Audit Showing Error Rates Per Camera
An Audit of Baltimore City's speed camera program found that error rates were 40 times higher than what the city previously acknowledged, according to an article by the Baltimore Sun, and that far more erroneous citations may have been issued than what the city refunded.

The city initially withheld the report from the Baltimore Sun, resisting calls from some city council members to disclose the findings to the public.  However a copy of the audit was leaked to the Sun despite the city's denial.  The audit revealed an "error rate" of approximately ten percent, which is substantially higher than previously acknowledged, with about one in ten citations examined showing an error.
The city issued roughly 700,000 speed camera tickets at $40 each in fiscal year 2012. If 10 percent were wrong, 70,000 would have wrongly been charged $2.8 million.
City Council members reacted with dismay and anger when told Wednesday of the audit's results, asking why the Rawlings-Blake administration didn't reveal the high error rate months ago and take steps to fully refund fines paid by motorists.
 
"It's outrageous. No, it's beyond outrageous," said City Councilman Carl Stokes, who has been calling on the city to release the audit. "Who ever heard of a secret audit? We should have told the public immediately. We should have declared complete amnesty, that all of the tickets were null and void. If anybody paid, they should be paid back."
The audit identified 13 cameras with double-digit error rates, including one at Loch Raven Boulevard that was giving out more erroneous tickets than accurate citations.
A camera in the 1000 block of Caton Ave. had a 35 percent error rate, the audit found. A device at the 6500 block of Eastern Ave. had a 45 percent error rate. And a speed camera in the 5400 block of Loch Raven Blvd. had a 58 percent error rate.
"That is extraordinary," said City Council member Robert Curran. "Anything more than a 2 percent error rate is unacceptable."
 
Throughout 2012, city officials repeatedly claimed the error rate of their 83 cameras was "less than a quarter of one percent" in response to a Sun investigation that documented erroneous speed readings at seven cameras.\ 
City officials said Wednesday that they shut down the entire speed camera program last spring — by then being run by a different company — within a week of reviewing the audit's findings. They pointed out that they have made some efforts over time to void or refund tickets they believed were obviously erroneous.
Read the complete article on the Baltimore Sun Website
See a copy of the leaked audit report

Additional Coverage on Baltimore's Xerox Speed Camera Audit:
CBS: Road for speed cameras gets bumpier as secret audit sparks cover-up claims
WBALTV: Audit - More people may have received flawed speed camera tickets
Fox Baltimore: Secret Audit Hid Baltimore City Speed Camera Flaws
NBC: Councilman Calls for Refunds for Erroneous Tickets
ABC News 2: Baltimore City Leaders in Dark Over Extent of Bogus Tickets
Citypaper.com: Speed Camera Audit Not Secret Anymore
Autos.AOL.Com: Secret Audit Finds Baltimore's Speed Cameras Unreliable
Examiner.Com: Colossal speed camera error, 70,000 tickets may be wrong

Saturday, January 18, 2014

RedSpeed Tickets Tossed in Annapolis Over Time-Distance Calculations

The Annapolis District Court Building
The Baltimore Sun is reporting that three defendants who received speed camera citations from Annapolis successfully disputed the citations., using time-distance calculations to dispute the recorded speed.  The vendor, Redspeed, is responding by trying to avoid future courtroom losses by presenting "training" to judges outside of the courtroom setting.
This month, three Annapolis drivers succeeded in persuading a judge to void their tickets issued by the camera on Cedar Park Drive, which has proved to be the busiest and most lucrative camera in Annapolis, with 4,004 tickets issued.
In those three cases, the drivers looked at photos of their vehicles on their tickets and went out to the street to measure the distance between the two photos. They then used the time stamps on the photos and worked out the math to determine how fast they were going.
The drivers all contended that their calculations showed they were going much slower than what the speed camera measured. That argument cast enough doubt that a judge voided the tickets, even though Debra Beerup, client relations manager with RedSpeed, said they were "comparing apples and oranges."
[...]
Jaime Hanafourde was clocked going 48 mph on Cedar Park, which she said is highly unlikely. The speed limit is 25 mph and she believes she drove just under 30 mph.
"You'd absolutely know it's wrong to travel at [48 mph]," she said.
Corinne Irwin, accused of going 43 mph, also had her ticket dismissed by Duden. "I don't speed in general, and I did not speed on the day I was cited," she said.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Baltimore Denies Access To City Speed Camera Audit

A Baltimore City Council Member is demanding that the city release an independent audit of the city's speed camera program to The Baltimore Sun.  The Sun placed a Public Information Act request for the city's findings, but city lawyers denied the request, citing a settlement between the city and Xerox to keep the documents secret.
City Solicitor George Nilson, the administration's chief lawyer, said releasing the audit would violate the city's settlement agreement with Xerox and "create obvious risks and potential exposure for the city."
"The fact that the particular system subject to the audit has not been in operation for a year strongly mitigates in favor of maintaining the privilege and complying with the city's settlement agreement," Nilson wrote in an email to The Sun.
Xerox operated the city's camera system until Jan. 1, 2013. A Sun investigation of the city's network of 83 radar-equipped speed cameras during the Xerox era found numerous problems, including erroneous speed readings. The company later reported that an internal review found five cameras with high error rates.
In its settlement, the city agreed to pay Xerox $2.3 million for invoices dating to late 2012. The city also agreed to keep confidential any documents "referring or relating to, or reflecting, each party's internal considerations, discussions, analyses, and/or evaluations of issues raised during the settlement discussions."
In late February, the city Board of Estimates agreed to pay URS $278,000 for work that included an audit of Xerox's internal review. Nilson said the audit was "a critical part of the settlement negotiations and figured prominently in the conclusion of those discussions," adding that it was "unequivocally done in anticipation of possible litigation."
Young said the administration at least should have disclosed the outcome of the Xerox audit to the five-member Board of Estimates, which he chairs. Such information could help board members make key decisions, such as authorizing payments to vendors.
"I think they should share it," he said. "They said it was confidential. I do understand why they didn't want to share it, but I do think they should have said something to me about what transpired."
Pratt said she, too, should have been briefed on the findings, adding, "It appears that the public should know; it should be full transparency."
Read More in the Baltimore Sun

Baltimore City's speed camera program was shut down after a series of errors.  The city's former contractor, Xerox, admitted that for some of their cameras one in 20 tickets was actually an error, including tickets issued to stationary vehicles.  The city switched to another vendor, Brekford Corporation, but then had to shut the program down after new errors occurred.

Speed Cameras Not the Norm in Most of the US

It's now been almost 5 years since speed cameras were first authorized to go statewide in Maryland, and have been in DC for some time.  Because of this, it is easy for some Maryland residents to forget that most Americans have lived most of their lives where there are no speed cameras, and that in fact most of America still does not use them.

Right now speed cameras are used in 14 states plus DC*, leaving 36 states where they are not used at all.  States which do NOT use speed cameras are:
AlaskaMaineOklahoma
ArknasasMassachusettsPennsylvania
CaliforniaMichiganRhode Island
ConnecticutMinnesotaSouth Carolina
DelawareMississippiSouth Dakota
FloridaMontanaTexas
GeorgiaNebraskaUtah
HawaiiNevadaVermont
IdahoNew HampshireVirginia
IndianaNew JerseyWest Virginia
KansasNorth CarolinaWisconsin
KentuckyNorth DakotaWyoming
* based on IIHS data

Two other states (Alabama and New York) permit speed cameras in only one city.  Most other states use them in only a very limited number of cities and towns, and only in specific areas.  In fact among the municipalities and counties which use speed cameras in the US, over 30% of them are located in Maryland, despite the fact that Maryland has less than 2% of the nation's population.

So the situation we have in Maryland, where the state endorses the paranoid position that people can only be "safe" if drivers are monitored at all times by a system of for-profit automated enforcement devices -- a system with no real due process and an extremely reduced burden of proof against the accused -- is in fact not "normal" at all.  Nationwide, it is the exception.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wicomico County Teachers Question Redspeed Camera Accuracy

WBOC is reporting that seventeen teachers at a Wicomico County school have complained that they received tickets from a speed camera located outside the school where they work, but they believe the speeds on the citations are impossible.
"It hit me at 39 miles per hour, right here," noted Jeremy Michalski, pointing to a ticket he received after a speed camera caught him just after pulling out of the school's parking lot onto Morris Street.
He doesn't see how that speed would even be possible.
"At 2:45, there's school dismissal, so there's parents lined up to pick up their kids, there's kids walking all over the street," he noted. "Every time I drive by that car, which we all know it's there, I look down at my speedometer and I'm going 22 miles per hour to 25."
And he is not alone.
"I got a ticket the beginning of last month," explained Michalski's coworker, Laura Becker. "It said I was going 40 miles per hour and I have a mom-mobile, and I just don't think it's possible for me to exit this parking lot and get up to that speed in that short amount of time."
The camera is run by the Wicomico County Sheriff's office and their vendor, RedSpeed.  Both the Sheriff's office and Redspeed assured the public that the cameras are accurate because the devices are calibrated regularly.

WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Wicomico County also received prior complaints of errors. There were claims of "spikes" in the number of tickets being issued at certain locations monitored by Wicomico County cameras in 2012, with some local residents disputing the accuracy of the tickets.

This is not the first time cameras run by Redspeed have been accused of issuing erroneous citations.  In 2012 the town of Fort Dodge Iowa discovered that a camera deployed by Redspeed in that town was producing erroneous citations in one specific location due to what they called an "electromagnetic anomaly".  In that instance it was claimed to the public that "They've never found this anywhere else in the country."

The issue of speed camera accuracy has been a serious concern in Maryland since 2012, when a series of speed measurement errors were admitted by Baltimore City and their former vendor Xerox.  Documents obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance showed that the cameras in those cases passed all the calibration tests, even on the very day one camera issued a ticket to a motionless car, proving that the current requirements for testing speed cameras in Maryland are UTTERLY WORTHLESS.  After Baltimore changed vendors to Brekford, even more errors occurred, and Baltimore's program was shut down.

We get mail -- but we can always use more

The Maryland Driver's Alliance receives lots of email from our readers, but we can always use more.

Even small bits of information are helpful.  Often, we are able to use small tips from various sources and put them together to uncover abuses by the speed camera programs.

Due to the volume of email, we aren't able to provide a detailed reply to every inquiry.  But be assured that every tip is helpful.

Some of the types of information that are particularly helpful include:
  • Reports about speed camera court sessions.  If possible, include the name of the judge.  If you don't have the judge's name, please provide the county in which the trial was held and the date of the court session.   If possible, tell us not only about your case, but about any other cases that you recall.  
  • Scanned images of speed camera citations.  If you want to block out your license plate number, that's fine.  We are mainly interested in reviewing the citations for conformance with the law and for technical details.  We won't publish any images without your permission.  Let us know that you have an image and we'll send you an email address to which you can send the image.
  • Information about city council or county council meetings in which speed camera issues are discussed.  There are simply too many individual jurisdictions in Maryland for the MDA leaders to actively track every jurisdiction's meeting agenda or meeting minutes.  However, if you become aware of a town or county whose officials are discussing speed cameras, please let us know.
Again, every tip is helpful, no matter how insignificant it may seem.  All information is held in confidence.   We never release a name without permission.  Help us help everyone by submitting tips on the contact form at http://www.mddriversalliance.org/p/contact-us.html.

Montgomery County Bill Would Narrow Lanes, Lower Speed Limits

A bill proposed by Montgomery County council members Roger Berliner would narrow the lanes on many county roads and promote the lowering of speed limits.

The stated goal of the bill is to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists.  The bill text "Limits the width of travel lanes, turning lanes, and parking lanes, as well as the size of intersection curb radii in urban areas."  This includes setting maximum lane widths in urban areas at 10 feet, the curb (parking) area to no wider than 11 feet, and reducing the turning radius to not exceed 15 feet.

The theory is that traffic tends to move more slowly when lanes are narrowed, and that this is more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists.  The reduction in traffic speeds essentially happens because many motorists perceive narrower lanes to be more dangerous, thereby discouraging driving at higher speeds.  Similarly, creating a smaller turning radius forces motorists to make turns more slowly, since a narrower turning radius is also perceived by drivers as being less safe.

The bill does not specifically seem to be aimed at narrowing lanes for the purpose of creating more travel lanes.  It does however call for the creation of bikeshare stations, electric vehicle charging stations and other "amenities".

The bill furthermore sets "target speeds" for various types of roads.  For example, the "target speed" on a "Major Highway" in an "urban" area would be 25mph.

A hearing is scheduled for January 23, 2014 at 7:30 PM.  Motorists in Montgomery County who wish to comment can find their council members here.

READER POLL: Should local governments narrow lanes and sharpen turns for the purpose of slowing traffic?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Baltimore Sun: Brekford OK'd Speed Camera Ticket for Parked Truck

The Baltimore Sun reports that speed camera contractor Brekford approved a speed camera citation for a parked vehicle shortly before the city suspended their program last April.
"Things like this will kill the program!" Baltimore police Sgt. Paul McMillian told officials with the city and Brekford Corp., the former contractor, in an April 13 email obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
McMillian said that "the blue pickup truck is clearly parked against the curb lane," yet Brekford approved the speed camera ticket and forwarded it to the Police Department for review. "The citation was disaproved of course," McMillian added.
"Thank you for letting us know, Sergeant," replied Jamie McDonald, the city Department of Transportation official who led the team overseeing the city's now-defunct speed and red-light camera program. "You are right, we can't afford to have ANY of these."
The citation was not approved in this instance.

The event occurred around the same time Baltimore was force to refund hundreds of citations issued in error due to an improperly configured camera which was enforcing the wrong speed limit.    The city made no mention of this apparent erroneous speed event at that time.  In 2012 the city had experienced similar incidents under their old contractor, Xerox Corp, including citations issued to parked vehicles.  Xerox acknowledged that for some of their cameras one in 20 citations issued were due to errors.

The city has since terminated their contract with Brekford, but not before making an additional payment of  $600,000 to the contractor for the time when the city's cameras were all shut down.  The Sun claims to have obtained documents citing defective radar, incorrect citation numbers, and high error rates as reasons.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Lawmaker Proposes Expanding Camera Enforcement Hours

Delegate Davis
A Prince George's County Delegate has proposed legislation which would remove restrictions on the times when speed cameras can operate and raise the cost of citations which are paid late.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Salisbury Court Dismisses Citations

More than ten speed camera citations from Salisbury were dismissed in district court, according to reports from motorists.

The hearing occurred on December 19th in Wicomico County District Court, Courtroom 2.  According to reports from two motorists all citations from Salisbury that day were dismissed.  One motorist provided the following account:
"The judge began by addressing those of us who had traffic cam citations that the Statute only allowed two defenses for a ticket, one being that your car was stolen at the time, and the other that you had loaned it to a friend, and you give the name of the friend. Then as we were called up one by one, he told us that the State has decided not to prosecute and the judged Nolle Pros, sit down on the bench and wait for your paperwork and we will get you out of here as quick as we can. I’m guessing 10+ of us, 5 minutes, we were walking out."

The defendants stated that no operator or representative from Brekford was present.  Neither the judge nor the city's representative gave a reason for the dismissals, according to the defendants' accounts.

In some cases a jurisdiction will "Nolle Pros" (decline to prosecute) a case when some witness or piece or required evidence is unavailable.

Last year the Maryland Drivers Alliance worked for months to obtain calibration records from the city of Salisbury through public records requests.  When documents were eventually released, our examination revealed discrepancies and gaps in calibration periods.  No large scale refund has been announce by the city.

Several motorists have written to us disputing the accuracy of the speed readings on their citations.  In a few cases the claims of inaccurate speeds appeared to be supported by calculations based on our examination the images, though this does not appear to have been the reason these citations were dismissed since no such evidence was presented.