Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wicomico County to End Speed Camera Contract

Wicomico County will not renew its speed camera contract, according to an article in DelmarvaNow.com.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver said that the county contract with Redspeed will not be renewed after it expires in December.  According to DelmarvaNow:
"Culver said drivers have changed their habits and the Wicomico County cameras are no longer making money like they used to. The money that came in would go toward public safety, he said." 
Wicomico's program was far smaller than speed camera programs run by more populous jurisdictions such as Montgomery, Prince George's, or Howard County.   Monthly revenues from the program peaked in the summer of 2013.  But by FY2015-2016 revenues had shriveled up to the point where the county only projected to bring in $35,000 for the year, according to the county budget.

Wicomoco County began their program in 2012.  A 2014 audit off the program showed that ticket revenues showed a marked, unexplained increase in the summer of 2013.  In November of 2013, the vendor issued a refund from a number of citations after a number of local school teachers claimed to have received erroneous citations.  Redspeed provided the following explanation for that refund:

Wicomico's contract with Redspeed was originally a per-ticket arrangement commonly referred to as a "bounty system".   The 2014 audit revealed that the this arrangement was changed in 2013 to avoid "the appearance of a bounty system".   However in fact what they did was merely break the single per-ticket fee into four separate per-ticket fee, meaning that they were paying the vendor exactly the same amount per ticket after the change and were still paying based on ticket volume regardless of the "appearance" they were attempting to present.


While the county is set to end their program for now, they are reserving the right to bring them back in the future.  Meanwhile the City of Salisbury will continue using speed cameras.  Salisbury's cameras, unlike Wicomico's, have been bringing in revenue.  Salisbury reported to have generated $768,000 from speed cameras in the last fiscal year, according to WBOC.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Traffic Ticket Troubles For Montgomery County Council Member

A Montgomery County lawmaker found himself on the wrong side of the law yet again, as Maryland court records show that Council member Craig Rice received two traffic tickets this past August.
 

In December 2013, it was reported that Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice had run up over $1000 worth of unpaid traffic and parking tickets before being confronted by the press.   Mr Rice was apparently cited for traffic violations yet again this summer, when court records show that Mr Rice received citations for speeding and “changing lanes when unsafe”while in Ocean City Maryland on August 13.

The court records show that Mr Rice plead guilty to driving 50mph in a 35mph zone, more than 40% over the legally posted speed limit.

Council Member Craig Rice:
Chronic Traffic Violator and Hypocrite
At the time when WJLA confronted Mr Rice about unpaid traffic citations in 2013, DC's traffic violation system showed citations for a speed camera ticket and parking fines, which he paid after being confronted by reporters.  According to Maryland Court records, Mr Rice had previously received citations for "EXCEEDING MAXIMUM SPEED: 44 MPH IN A POSTED 35 MPH ZONE' in 2012, and a " FAILURE TO OBEY PROPERLY PLACED TRAFFIC CONTROL DEVICE INSTRUCTIONS" in 2013, as well as 2 prior traffic violations from 2011 which have since been purged from the court system.

Mr Rice had also caught flack for illegal parking in DC back in 2009.

Mr Rice has been a supporter of Montgomery County's automated traffic enforcement program.  Council Member Rice has repeatedly refused to respond to questions from the editor of the Maryland Drivers Alliance website (who is a resident of his district) about the county's program.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Elephant In the Room on Regional Traffic: New Potomac River Crossing Off The Table for Maryland

Transportation Planners in Maryland and Virginia continue to be at odds about the prospect of a new Potomac River Crossing.  Leaders in Virginia have long been calling for a new bridge, however officials in Maryland and particularly Montgomery County have kept this off the table.

Virginia has again been looking closely at the issue, claiming that a new bridge is necessary to support future economic growth and address traffic concerns.  But Montgomery County officials and many residents have claimed that a new crossing would increase sprawl.  From Virginia's perspective their hands are largely tied, since Maryland and DC actually own the river.  As past efforts to open a dialog with Maryland about a new crossing have gone nowhere, Virginia is now looking at the possibility of extending the I-495 express lanes over the American Legion Bridge as a possible alternative solution.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has been particularly cold to the idea of any new river crossing.  In September 2014 Leggett was asked in an online discussion about a Potomac River Crossing, Leggett acknowledged the problems caused by the region's ever worsening traffic congestion but stated “The question whether a second bridge will seriously alleviate these concerns without impacting our environment and agricultural reserve has been deemed to be not worthy of the tremendous risk.”  In a December 2014 discussion, Leggett was asked about a Potomac River Crossing and responded  “The idea of a bridge crossing the Potomac River through Montgomery County to Virginia has been debated for decades, and ultimately it was decided not to build it. The view is that such a bridge would destroy our Agricultural Reserve, which is one of the features of our County of which I'm most proud."  And in April 2015, when a resident complained about the cost of the purple line and Silver Spring Transit Center suggested  that the priority should be a new bridge into NoVa, Leggett declined to even address the idea of a new bridge at all, and instead said the solution is to spend more on transit.

Of course in reality elected officials in Montgomery County do not consider transit to be a solution to their own transportation needs.  Neither County Executive Ike Leggett nor any members of the County Council take transit to work.

So why is this such a big deal?  Well, right now it is a bare minimum of 35 miles driving distance, or a minimum of 48 minutes driving time, between the American Legion Bridge and the next river crossing to the north at Point of Rocks on the Maryland side, or 43 miles on the Virginia side of the river.

This means that anyone trying to get from Montgomery County or Prince George's County into any point in Virginia must cross the same single bridge, no other viable option exists without adding at least 35 miles to the trip.  The result of this is known to anyone who commutes south on I-270... even if they don't actually cross the river themselves they must still confront almost daily traffic backups which on a bad day can extend all the way into Frederick County.

As bad as the scarcity of river crossings is for Virginia and Maryland motorists, the situation is EVEN WORSE for transit users.  A commuter trying to take metro from Gaithersburg to Reston is in for an over two hour ride, since one must transit all the way to the center of DC to change from the red line to the Silver line (that is assuming you are both starting and ending somewhere transit actually goes).  And without additional river crossing there is virtually nothing that can be done to improve the situation for transit users in suburban Maryland and VA who must cross the river, since the funny thing about buses and trains is that they can't swim.

So what do you think?

Do Maryland and Virginia need a new Potomac River Crossing west of the American Legion Bridge?

(Note: poll results may take up to 1 minute to update)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Four good reasons why you should always request a trial for a speed camera citation

Motorists in Maryland who receive a speed camera citation have the option of requesting a trial.   Most motorists don't request a trial and simply pay the $40 fine.  However, there are several good reasons to ALWAYS request a trial, even if you think that you might decide to just pay the fine before trial.

  • Requesting a trial forces the county (or city) that issued the citation to create an evidence package.  As we saw with the Baltimore camera scandal, citation evidence can often be erroneous.  During creation of the evidence package, the citation is  sometimes "administratively voided" and you never even have to appear in court.  Conversely, if you pay the citation without requesting a trial, no further review of the citation is performed.  In other words, if you don't request a trial, you lose $40 even if you did nothing wrong.
     
  • If you go to trial and win, you save $40.   The county (or city) gets nothing. 

  • If you go to trial and lose, you lose around $30 to $45, depending on the amount of the fine that the judge decides to assess.  (The judges usually reduce the fine enough to offset most or all of the court costs that are charged in addition to the fine.)   But even if you lose, the county (or city) gets nothing.  Under state law, the District Court retains the entire fine and court costs to cover the cost of operation.   You read it right:  When you go to court, the county (or city) that issued the citation gets nothing for their effort, even if you lose the case.   We confirmed this with the Administrative Clerk of the District Court.

  • When you appear for a trial, you are helping to maintain justice in the USA.  Remember:  Pleading "not guilty" simply means that you want to exercise your constitutional right to a trial. 

If you request a trial and decide later to pay the citation without appearing in court, you can still pay the $40 fine without incurring any penalty, as long as you pay it before the court date.   Since court dates are usually set at least one month in advance of a trial, you get an extra month to think about what to do about your case.  And if money is tight, you get an extra month to pay the citation, if you decide to do so.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Insurance Industry Proves Accident Rates Declined Equally With or Without Speed Cameras

An Insurance Industry Group is claiming that a study on Montgomery County's speed camera program shows the benefits of speed cameras, even though that study found no difference in accident rate reductions on roads where speed cameras were added compared to roads in a control group without speed cameras.

The study by the Insurance Industry for Highway Safety (IIHS) compared roads in Montgomery County eligible for speed cameras (generally roads with speed limits of up to 35mph) to a set of roads in Fairfax County with comparable speed limits (25-35mph).

The study also wanted to prove the existence of "spillover effects", by comparing a set of roads in Montgomery County with 40mph speed limits to a set of roads in Fairfax County with comparable speed limits.  Data from 2004 through 2013 was examined.

Speed Camera Roads No Better Than Control Group On Accident Rate Improvements
The study showed that accidents rates declined by almost exactly the same amount in ALL FOUR groups from 2004 to 2013, both in the categories with speed cameras and without them.  The percentage decline in accidents was the same in the Montgomery County roads with speed cameras to Montgomery County roads without speed cameras, and was also equal to the decline in accidents in both categories of roads in Fairfax County where speed cameras are not allowed.
Raw Data from IIHS report
Annual Reported Accidents as a percentage of Baseline Year Rate


Speed Cameras May Actually Have Been Worse Than Nothing
It is worth noting that overall accident rates in the study declined between 2004 and 2006 at a similar rate to subsequent years even though Montgomery County's speed camera program was not even in effect until mid 2007.  This had the effect of allowing the IIHS to attribute declines in accident rates to speed cameras which took place before the cameras were deployed.  Had 2006 been used as the baseline year rather than 2004, the result would have been that Fairfax County roads would have seen a larger decline in accidents than Montgomery County.

Comparing the average accident rates from 2004-2006 to accident rates from all of 2008-20013 would have shown that Montgomery County roads fared 5.8% worse than Fairfax County: Accident rates on speed camera roads declined by 21.1% compared to a 26.9% decline on non speed camera roads in Fairfax county.  The "potential spillover" roads in Montgomery County also showed worse results than the control group in Fairfax, with 40mph roads in Montgomery seeing a 12% decline compared to a larger 17% decline on 40mph Fairfax county roads.
Percentage Decline In Accidents before/after 2007; roads in Fairfax County saw a larger decline than Montgomery

The decline in accidents overall is not surprising given that there was a NATIONWIDE 21% decline in traffic fatalities between 2005 and 2009, largely attributed to safety improvements in vehicles such as anti-lock brakes.  Americas roads are in generally substantially safer than they were in 2004, despite the fact that only a 15 states use speed cameras at all, and most states which permit them use them in far fewer locations than Maryland.

The fact that accident rates had improved no more in Montgomery County with speed cameras than in Fairfax County without them was completely left out of the press reports which they provided to media organizations.

Study Made No Effort to Consider Alternative Solutions 
The IIHS study specifically excluded roads from the "control group" where alternative traffic calming measures were applied with at least one Fairfax County road where speed bumps had been added excluded.  Thus no comparison between the use of speed cameras to the application of traffic calming measures was attempted by the study.

The IIHS study concluded that average traffic speeds declined on roads in the study where speed cameras were used, but this effect is comparable to speed reductions which other studies have found to be produced by alternative traffic calming measures such as "radar speed display signs" which do not issue citations.

(Radar speed display sign study links:
http://trrjournalonline.trb.org/doi/abs/10.3141/1973-06
http://www.bellevuewa.gov/pdf/Transportation/2005_Radar_Report.pdf
http://www.westerntransportationinstitute.org/documents/reports/4W2174_RadarWarrants_FinalReport_2011-04-07.pdf
)

And while the study had attempted to prove the presence of "spillover" reductions in traffic speed, no significant effect was observed.  Average traffic speeds declined only 4% on non-speed camera roads in Montgomery, an amount easily attributable to increasing traffic congestion over the past ten years, with comparable roads in Fairfax County showing a 3% decrease in speeds.

The IIHS study also included a push poll survey which concluded that the majority of Montgomery County residents support speed cameras.  However the actual most common response was actually non-participation, since only 9% of those called actually completed the IIHS's survey.  The results from the IIHS poll seem markedly different from the results of a poll conducted by WTOP in 2012 where 64% of DC area respondents believed the primary role of speed and red light cameras is to generate revenue.

IIHS Made No Effort To Examine Possible Negatives of Cameras 
The study by the IIHS, a group which represents the insurance industry, made no effort to examine whether there were any complaints, concerns, or problems with  Montgomery County's program.  As such it seemed to ignore the possibility that any legitimate issues of fairness, integrity, profiteering, or other concerns might exist.  Among the issues NOT examined by the IIHS study:
  • Montgomery County invented the "Bounty system" (paying contractors a cut of each citation), and they still have a bounty system today despite promises by lawmakers to "end the bounty system", and despite having a clause in their contract that would let them switch from a bounty system to a flat fee.
  • The Montgomery County ATEU has a STATED preference for conducting secret meetings.  Even their so called "citizens advisory board" meets in secret, keeps no minutes, and gives no public notice of meetings.
  • Local speed camera programs, including Montgomery County, issue erroneous speed camera tickets on a regular basis.  Elsewhere in Maryland, Baltimore City's program was shut down when it was revealed they had issued thousands of erroneous citations because of false speed readings due to "radar effects".  Why did the IIHS not examine Baltimore's utterly failed program, which was run by the same contractor which runs Montgomery County's?
  • They ticket people who were not the driver, and Montgomery County has fought with every means they have to keep the burden of proof on the accused in such cases.
  • They have adopted speed cameras as the first choice for every traffic safety problem, to the exclusion of other traffic engineering solutions.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
  • Defendants have been denied the right to confront their accuser in court, even those who requested the camera operator testify. 
Supporters of speed cameras call Montgomery County a "model program".  In  our opinion, the problem is that this may be true.  When Montgomery County breaks promises made to the public other jurisdictions follow suit and double down on it.

Insurance Industry: Put Your Money Where Their Mouth Is
The correct conclusion from the IIHS study should be that our roads are getting much safer without speed cameras, and that better alternatives exist for controlling speeds where that is needed.  The lack of examination for possible negatives of speed cameras proves that the insurance industry does not care about and integrity of our justice system.  Unfortunately the Insurance Industry believes that it is in their financial interest to diminish people's legal rights such that people accused of traffic violations are presumed guilty and have no defense -- even to the point where individuals can be accused and found guilty of offenses that happened when they were not even present.  And while the insurance industry advocates for the use of speed cameras, jurisdictions such as Maryland and DC which have adopted them in far greater proportions than the rest of the US pay much more for insurance than the national average.  Maryland and DC are the 11th and 3rd most expensive locations for auto insurance respectively.  A fair answer to the IIHS's conclusions would be that the auto insurance industry should put their money where their mouth is and lower Maryland's insurance rates.