Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bill Would End SHA's Speed Camera Program

A bill which would end the SHA's speed camera program has been submitted to the General Assembly and is set for a hearing on March 5.

House Bill 1038 would repeal article 21-810, which authorizes the state to use speed cameras on highway work zones "regardless of whether workers are present".  The bill sponsors are Delegates Haven Shoemaker, John Cluster, Glen Glass, Jay Jalisi, Trent Kittleman, Robert Long, Tony McConkey, Warren Miller, and Matthew Morgan.

HB 1038 would have no effect on local speed camera programs, such as those in Montgomery County and Prince George's County on local roads, since those cameras are authorized under a different statute.

In prior years, legislation repealing both state and local speed cameras failed.  The state legislature has in the past voted against legislation and amendments which would have ended the use of workzone speed cameras in workzones without actual workers.

In 2011, our website was first to report that the SHA failed to have speed cameras certified by an independently calibrated laboratory for the first nine months they were in operation, relying instead on the manufacturer's non-independent certification.  The SHA only had the equipment calibrated after we reported this.  Citations issued during that period were not refunded.

The SHA defended this practice by claiming that the requirement that equipment be certified annually doesn't mean this testing must be done until the equipment has been used for a full 12 months.  Other local governments such as Hagerstown, Greenbelt, and Laurel followed the SHA's lead that it was OK to bend calibration requirements in this exact same way.

A 2012 audit of the SHA's program confirmed this took place.  In addition, the audit revealed that the SHA waived its own requirements for testing and calibration equipment. The Audit stated:
"At the time of the contract award and as of April 2012, the specific speed detection equipment (scanning LIDAR, a laser system) listed in the contractor’s proposal, and ultimately used, was not reported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) as conforming to its guidelines, as required by the RFP. The contract required that all equipment conform with IACP’s speed detection equipment standards to provide assurance of its calibration and functionality. "
The IACP maintains a "Conforming Products List" certifying over 80 different radar devices and over 30 lidar devices, including speed cameras and devices for "automatic" enforcement, but which to this day does not include the specific device chosen by the SHA.
The audit also stated:
"Prior to awarding the contract, SHA used a consulting firm to conduct a system accuracy test of the contractor’s proposed equipment in an active highway work zone. However, the consulting firm deviated from SHA’s testing instructions and therefore, the basis for the conclusion that the equipment met performance requirements is questionable. "

A former SHA employee and whistleblower, Gene Simmers, testified on previous legislation that he had been instructed to give preferential treatment to a specific vendor.  ""My office was instructed, and I was a supervisor, I was instructed 'not to review not to analyze or test the products from the ACS company'.  In other words, to give them the job."

"There is incontrovertible proof, with the office of legislative audits and the documents that I have produced, that this program was a sham to begin with.  The product does not work properly.  It wasn't tested properly.  It wasn't calibrated properly for 9 months.  And millions of dollars were taken from the citizens of Maryland without a calibration of the system for 9 months.  That's not my opinion that's the office of legislative audits."

The SHA currently uses the same vendor as Baltimore City did prior to 2012, Xerox (formerly ACS State and Local Solutions).  In December 2012 Xerox was forced to admit that their speed cameras in Baltimore City had systematically issued tickets based on false speed readings, and later audits revealed that these erroneous readings were even more widespread than originally known.

The Baltimore audit examined the videos and time stamped images to determine that recorded speed readings were erroneous.  However citations issued by the SHA's program round time stamps off to the second and withhold the real time intervals between images from accused defendants, and no videos exist.  Thus an audit of the SHA's program to identify similar speed measurement errors is not even possible, and defendants have no time stamped evidence they can use to dispute recorded speeds.  The SHA under the previous administration opposed all proposed requirements for stricter testing standards or to include accurate time stamps so that speeds could be verified after the fact, ensuring that the recorded speed on citations would be the ONLY evidence of speed available.

The Federal Highway Administration(FHWA) has stated that accidents occurring in work zones account for 1.6% of all traffic crashes.  Regarding accidents that involve worker fatalities, the FWHA has stated that "More than half of these fatalities were workers struck by construction vehicles."  Between 2002 and 2010, work zone fatalities have decreased by 51% nation wide, despite the fact that only a few states use speed cameras statewide in work zones.

In 2005 the Maryland SHA examined one alternate form of traffic speed control, speed display trailers, and found that "The speed display trailer is an effective speed reduction measure in work zones." With mean speeds reduced by 2-7 mph..  The study noted that "Drivers have shown positive attitudes toward the speed monitoring display."  and that "The speed display trailer is a cost-effective speed control measure."  Prior to the introduction of speed cameras, the Maryland SHA examined other types of speed control as well and found these could also increase voluntary compliance with speed limits.  However, since the introduction of profitable work zone speed cameras on interstate highways, supporters of camera rarely if ever discuss the fact that traffic engineering alternatives to automated enforcement exist.

The bill will need to survive the "Environment and Transportation Committee", whose leadership is extremely hostile towards motorists, in order to move on to the General Assembly.  A hearing before the committee is scheduled for March 5 at 1pm.  The members of the committee are:
Kumar Barve, Chairman: (vice chair)