Thursday, October 13, 2016

Montgomery County Sees Speed Camera Revenues Increase, Wants More

Montgomery County's speed camera program exceeded revenue projections in 2015, increasing by $2.1 million over 2014 to $18.7 million, according to a report in the Washington Post.  This represents a 12.6% increase at a time when some speed camera programs in the state have seen revenues decline.

Montgomery County's speed camera program has been hailed as a "Model" program by organizations which seek to expand speed cameras nation wide and remove all restrictions to their use.  Montgomery County is the only County in Maryland which uses speed cameras outside school zones.  The county's revenues have been helped by their policy of creating extensive "speed camera corridors" where mobile, sometimes concealed cameras can be placed at any point 24/7, frequently in concealed locations.  The County has also fought in court to maintain the principal that they have no requirement to refund citations after they have been paid, and the county has refused to refund citations issued in cases where cameras were in blatant violation of state requirements for calibration.

To facilitate the expansion of the program, Montgomery County speed camera locations and legislative agenda with respect to automated enforcement are reviewed by a secret "Citizens Advisory Board on Traffic Issues" whose members are exclusively chosen by the Director of the speed camera program.  The meetings of this group are exempt from all the normal rules followed by the many other "Citizens Advisory Boards" within the county, meaning they are closed to the public, to the press, and to critics, and that no minutes from these meetings are kept and made available to the public.  Representatives from the Montgomery County Government have engaged in extensive lobbying to the state legislature at taxpayer expense in order to prevent any new protections for motorist rights and facilitate the further expansion of their program.

The Montgomery County Council is now looking at lowering speed limits as a way to keep revenues rising.  WTOP reports that the county has been seeking to lower the speed limit on River Road for the  specific purpose of deploying speed cameras.  Council Member Roger Berliner has requested that the SHA lower the speed limit on a section of River Road be designated as a new "school zone" and then lower the speed limit in this location by 10mph.  This would allow the location to qualify for the use of speed cameras at the location where the speed limit drops.  The stated reason for lowering speed limits was an accident which involved a vehicle traveling at 115mph, 60mph over the current speed limit.  The SHA is planning to implement a package of traffic engineering safety improvements for the location, which is pending implementation by mid fall.  However the county decided they are not interested in seeing whether these would have any effect.  The SHA noted in their initial rejection of the request to lower speed limits that the location does not fall within the normal definition of a school zone, and that changes to speed limit may not end extremely reckless driving.  There are already speed cameras located on other portions of River road.

Montgomery County has seen other instances where high speed fatalities have occurred immediately between a cluster of three speed cameras all within a quarter mile of the accident, including one case where the drunk teenage drivers immediately before the accident stated (incorrectly) )that "If they went fast enough, the camera couldn’t catch them".  The county's immediate response to that accident was to add a fourth mobile speed camera nearby, rather than investigating traffic engineering improvements.