Monday, February 9, 2015

Delegates Re-Introduce Speed Camera Audit Bill

Legislation has been submitted which would require quarterly audits of all local speed camera programs.

The bill, HB0271, states that
(7) (I) A LOCAL JURISDICTION SHALL OBTAIN A QUARTERLY AUDIT OF ITS SPEED MONITORING SYSTEMS CONDUCTED BY A QUALIFIED INDEPENDENT PERSON.
(II)  THE RESULTS OF THE QUARTERLY AUDIT SHALL BE KEPT ON FILE;
AND
2. SHALL BE ADMITTED AS EVIDENCE IN ANY COURT PROCEEDING FOR A VIOLATION OF THIS SECTION.

The bill was submitted by Delegates Warren Miller, Christopher Adams, Stephen Arentz,
Susan Aumann, Jason Buckel , John Cluster , Mark Fisher , Kevin Hornberger ,
Seth Howard , Rick Impallaria , Nicholaus Kipke , Trent Kittleman , Robert Long
Susan McComas , Tony McConkey , Mike McKay , Ric Metzgar, Nathaniel Oaks, Neil Parrott,
Sid Saab, Meagan Simonaire, Kathy Szeliga, and Chris West.  It was previously introduced last year as House Bill 1288.

The bill was prompted in part because Baltimore City's speed camera program was shown to have
experienced huge numbers of erroneous speed camera tickets, and the City shut down their program after the erroneous ticket became publicly known.  The city conducted a "secret" audit of their program, which they initially attempted to conceal from the press.  That audit showed that many cameras had issued double-digit percentages of ticket that were in error.  A second audit of the program was conducted --- the city initially attempted to keep that audit secret as well --- which confirmed substantial numbers of tickets had been issued based on incorrect speed readings.  These matters were widely reported by the local press, including the Baltimore Sun.  Some documented incidents included stationary vehicles getting speeding tickets.  The audits prompted a separate investigation by the city inspector general which additionally alleged improper conduct by a city official involved in the program.

An audit of the SHA's program also disclosed several significant issued.  The SHA audit criticized the agency for failing to have their speed cameras independently certified for the first nine months they were in use (in fact it was only after this website disclosed that fact that the testing was actually done).  The audit also revealed that the SHA had failed to follow their own standards for testing equipment, and that a requirement that equipment approved by the IACP be used had been dropped during the procurement process --- a change which gave contractor Xerox an advantage in the bidding.

The bill failed to gain traction last year because under the O'Malley administration, no state agency was willing to oversee such audits.  Local governments which profit from speed cameras also opposed having outside oversight of any kind, apparently since they were terrified that audits might reveal errors in their own programs.

Erroneous speed readings have been alleged in other jurisdictions.  Last year a group of school teachers in Wicomico County complained that a camera near their school had issued erroneous tickets.  A speed camera contract between the Town of Cheverly and Optotraffic was ended amid revelations that cameras had recorded a bike going 38 mph and an “invisible vehicle” travelling 76 mph.   The Maryland Drivers Alliance attempted for years to obtain documents verifying that the Town of Brentwood had issued erroneous tickets, and when the town finally disclosed documents under pressure of a lawsuit evidence of many erroneous citations were revealed.

Prior to the Baltimore City debacle, speed camera programs would generally recite to the public a mantra of "If you don't speed you won't get a ticket".

Because such audits would be admitted as evidence in speed camera hearings, defendants in a speed camera case would be able to reference the contents of such an audit in their defense.  Currently, were a motorist to attempt to enter a document such as the Baltimore City audits into evidence to demonstrate that cameras are capable of error, the documents would likely be dismissed as "hearsay" unless the defendant were first able to go through the complicated process of authenticating the document under Maryland Rules.  This is despite the fact that local governments are permitted to admit documents they claim show the documents were tested without authentication, and they are accepted as proof of the accuracy of equipment by the courts, without a requirement that the agency provide an expert witness to confirm the validity of the testing method.  ( The cameras in Baltimore City which issued erroneous tickets did pass their calibration tests, even on the very day the device issued an erroneous tickets to a stationary car, which was the result of what the vendor described as "radar effects" caused by external phenomenon, not incorrect calibration. )