Sunday, February 25, 2018

Bills Aim to Address Speed Camera Concerns

Two bills which aim to remedy longstanding complaints about photo enforcement and are currently before the Maryland General Assembly.

House Bill 1151 would require that speed camera citations "provide an accurate visual record of a motor vehicle" and "an accurate representation of the distance traveled by the motor vehicle between each time-stamped image".  This is intended to address a long standing concern that many citations do not provide sufficient information to verify the speed of a vehicle.  This is in response to numerous complaints of erroneous citations, including systematic speed camera errors in Baltimore City, as well as other documented cases such as the City of Rockville and College Park where speed cameras have been documented to have recorded incorrect speeds for vehicles.

In addition, HB1151 would clarify the calibration requirements for speed cameras, including stating that calibration tests must include "A CHECK OF ALL KEY SYSTEMS RELEVANT TO THE ACCURACY OF THE SYSTEM".  This is in response to the fact that current law basically does not state what a speed camera must actually be tested for.  In one example in the City of Rockville, an erroneous citation was issued to a school bus by a speed camera which passed all their calibration tests perfectly.  The calibration records did not in fact state that the device had been certified for any specific purpose or that they had actually been tested to verify they could accurately record speed, only the device was only tested according to unidentified "manufacturer specifications".  Had the complaint about the violation been raised by a private citizen rather than local school board, the error would likely have been denied.  Yet despite the gaping shortcoming of providing no idea what devices are being tested for, under current law such calibration records are still considered almost absolute proof of guilt by the District Court.

House Bill 1151 also requires that if an individual contests a speed camera citation, and requests the "operator" of the device appear, the actual individual who signed the camera logs or the actual officer who signed the citation must appear.  Under current law, many cases jurisdictions substitute a "representative" to appear in court in place of the person that signed the camera logs.  In many cases such a representative has no first hand knowledge of how the device was calibrated and is free to respond to any questions from the defendant with shrugs, "I don't know", or canned responses regarding what the operator is supposed to do rather than personal knowledge of what the operator actually did.  This effectively denies defendants their constitutional right to face their accuser and allows hearsay evidence to be used against them.

The bipartisan sponsors of the bill are Delegates Hill, Fisher, Jalisi, R. Lewis, McCray, Parrott, Pena-Melnyk, Reilly, Rey, Wivell, and K. Young.  HB 1151 will be heard by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on March 1.  The members of the House Environment and Transportation Committee are:
The Maryland Drivers Alliance has been calling for changes such as this to state law for years, because this would make speed cameras less unfair to the accused.  Citizens who wish to support House Bill 1151 can contact the Environment and Transportation Committee at the addresses above, or contact the bill sponsor to find out how you can provide formal written testimony in support. 

A second bill, HB1365, would require that anywhere a speed camera is in use in a school zone, "A DEVICE THAT  DISPLAYS  A  REAL TIME  POSTING OF THE SPEED AT WHICH A DRIVER IS TRAVELING" also be installed.  Such devices are referred to as "Radar Speed Display Signs" or "Your Speed" signs.  Numerous studies have shown that the presence of "Your Speed" signs are effective at reducing speeding in school zones.  A study by the Maryland SHA found that radar speed signs reduced average traffic speeds by 2-7mph, increasing voluntary compliance without the need for citations to be issued.  HB1365 is likely to be opposed by jurisdictions which profit from speed cameras, despite the fact that radar speed display signs have been proven highly effective at reducing speeding and improving safety, and despite the fact that existing speed camera revenues could cover the cost of installing such safety devices.
A Radar Speed Display Sign located near Montgomery County Police Headquarters
(the base of operations for the largest photo enforcement program in the state). 
Montgomery County does not typically use Speed Camera funds to install
such safety devices near schools because that would reduce speed camera revenues. 
HB1365 is sponsored by Delegates Wivell, Cillberti, Krebs, Long, McComas, McKay, Parrott, and Reilly.  The hearing for HB1365 will be in the Environment and Transportation Committee on March 2nd.

Lawmakers Propose New Type of Photo Enforcement

The state legislature is considering creating an entirely new form of photo enforcement in Maryland. 

The bill identified as HB0749 in the House and SB0551 in the Senate would create "Bus Lane Monitoring Cameras" that would issue automated tickets to vehicles which enter lanes reserved for buses.

The bill sponsors are Senator Joan Carter Conway (D, Baltimore City) , and Delegates Robbyn Lewis (D, Baltimore City), Angela Angel (D, Prince George's County), and Delegate Brooke Lierman (D, Baltimore City). 

The fines under the bill would be issued to the vehicle owner, not the driver, and would carry a fine of $100 (more than twice the amount of a Maryland speed camera ticket).  The fiscal policy notes for the bill state :"Because fine revenues are paid to the jurisdiction in an uncontested case, local revenues increase."  Bus lane cameras are not used in many other jurisdictions, however New York City was able to collect $17million in revenues from bus lane cameras in 2016.

The hearing for the bill in the House Environment and Transportation Committee took place on February 22.  Proponents of photo enforcement have generally claimed that photo enforcement is necessary for safety.  However in this case the bills sponsor in the house cited the desire to move buses more quickly rather than a safety purpose, and did not present any evidence showing a safety benefit from such cameras.  It is possible the passage of such a new form of photo enforcement could open the door to other kinds of mass surveillance for non-safety related purposes.  The bill was praised by Montgomery County delegate Al Carr (D, Montgomery County), an anti motorist lawmaker who has promoted other new types of non-safety related photo enforcement last year which would ticket for the mere presence of certain types of vehicles, and he stated that he wanted to see bus lane camera in Montgomery County as well.

Two citizens appeared to support the bill in the house committee, both were speaking on behalf of groups representing cyclists, a form of transportation which is completely immune to photo enforcement systems since bikes do not have license plates.

The cameras would likely be used first in Baltimore City.  Baltimore has a troubled history with photo enforcement.  The city's speed camera program needed to be shut down in 2012 after it was discovered that erroneous speed camera citations had been systematically issued to innocent motorists.  As a further demonstration of the city's competence, on the first day the Baltimore City speed camera program was restarted, the city issued hundreds of erroneous duplicate citations.  In another case of gross incompetence, the city of Baltimore issued 2000 citations which had been "signed" by a deceased police officer, and these citations were never refunded.  The city has also been struggling with a recent scandal where Baltimore City Police Officers allegedly faked body camera footage to ensure convictions of defendants.

The Hearing for Senate Bill 551 in the Judicial Proceedings Committee will take place February 27.  The members of the Judicial Proceedings Committee are:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Guardrails Blamed for Fatalities In Use on Maryland Roads

The Maryland SHA has stated that it will no longer install a model of guardrail blamed for causing traffic fatalities in several states, but has yet to remove them from existing roadways.

Ten states have ordered the Lindsay X-Lite guardrail pulled from roads and replaced with models which meet the newest crash safety standards set by the Federal Highway Administration.   The Maryland SHA has stated that it will not install more X-LITES on roads, but approximately 980 units remain on Maryland roads.

Retired SHA traffic engineer Gene Simmers believes Maryland should replace the existing guardrails with ones that meet the latest federal safety standards  “You know there’s a problem. You know that there are other states that have removed them for safety reasons,” stated Mr Simmers.

According to an article in USA Today, the X-LITE was located at the site of six crashes involving fatalities in Tennessee, Missouri, and Virginia.  In five of those crashes the guardrails effectively impaled the vehicle.  In two fatal crashes in Tennessee —  the guardrails "did not perform as they were intended to," stated B.J. Doughty, the department's communications director. 

The devices are the subject of several lawsuits involving traffic fatalities in other states.   The guardrails had been tested by a lab owned by the manufacturer, which some claimed was a conflict of interest.  In April of last year, the Tennessee Department of Transportation send a letter to the Federal Highway Administration, calling on the agency to revoke their approval for the use of the devices, stating "I believe it appropriate to notify Federal Highway Administration of our inability to receive satisfactory installation information from the manufacturer and that in-service performance of this device is resulting in unacceptable safety levels for the department" and noting that the FHWA has the authority to revoke the acceptance of devices to be eligible for federal funding. 

Maryland pulled the devices from their approved product list last year, but many remain in use.

Most state DOTs did not independently test the devices themselves before using them.  But when Virginia ran their own tests they found that the devices failed, prompting the Virginia to remove it from the state's product list and VDOT is replacing it on roads where the speed limit exceeds 55mph. 
The manufacturer defends the devices and claims they save lives, "For decades, Lindsay Transportation Solutions has made safety our No. 1 priority. ... It is widely recognized that there are impact conditions that exceed the performance expectations of all safety equipment, and equipment’s inability to singly prevent every tragedy does not indicate a flaw or defect." stated the president of the company's infrastructure division.

USA Today: Controversial guardrails linked to deaths get replaced
Fox 5: Dad on a Mission, Federal Oversight in Question
Knox News: More lawsuits accuse guardrail manufacturers of negligence
Knox News: Guardrails only tested by lab owned by creators

Monday, February 12, 2018

Legislation Would Require Longer Yellow Light Times

The Maryland Legislature is considering a bill which would increase the minimum amount of time which yellow lights are required to display at locations where red light cameras are in use.

House Bill 204 was sponsored by State Delegate Marc Korman (D, Montgomery County), and would raise the minimum time which a yellow light is required to display to 4 seconds.  Current law is complicated.  A federal rule requires yellow lights to be "between 3 and 6 seconds.  A separate state regulation also requires a calculation to be performed in a specific manner, notably that a formula using "the greater of the speed limit or the 85th percentile speed be used", and a separate SHA policy adopted in 2003 requires that yellow lights be no less than 3.5 seconds regardless of this calculation.   The bill was written in response to a preliminary investigation by the Office of Inspector General which found that the SHA policy had not been consistently applied.

The bill would require that yellow times be more generous, and would explicitly require that yellow lights be no less than 4 seconds regardless of the calculations wherever red light cameras are in use. 

The hearing for the bill was heard before the Environment and Transportation Committee on February 8th.   AAA Mid Atlantic testified for the bill, and argued that the bill would reduce red light running and improve safety for motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists.  The bill was also supported by the Maryland Drivers Alliance, and we noted that study after study has shown that longer yellow lights reduce rates of red light running and improve safety.  We noted in our testimony that it is currently virtually impossible for a defendant to have yellow light timing formulas admitted in defense of a citation without an expert witness, noting that we have observed district court judges who have been assigned over 100 cases in a single two hour session who refused to even look at math calculations for yellow light times, and we proposed an amendment that would have required mathematical calculations to be considered as evidence.

A specific case of an intersection at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road, where a marked decline in red light running occurred after a yellow light was lengthened by just half a second, was cited as an example.  Prior to December 2016, the intersection had a left turn signal which was configured with a 3 second yellow light, which did not comply with the SHA adopted policy requiring a 3.5 second minimum.  The light had furthermore been timed using a calculation using "the average of the posted speed limit and 20mph" RATHER THAN the requirement spelled out in state regulation COMAR 11.04.14  (Montgomery County does this at NUMEROUS locations, despite guidance to the contrary in the SHA signal timing manual).  After an investigation by the Maryland Drivers Alliance, the left turn yellow was increased to 3.5s in December of 2016.   Data obtained by the Maryland Drivers Alliance showed that a marked decline in violations took place after the light was retimed.
Left Lane RLC Violations at Georgia Avenue at Seminary Road
We have been working since 2016 to obtain data from Montgomery County which would show the detailed yellow times, red times, and lane for violations at this location.  The county had initially denied the request, and then demanded a $19,000 fee which the MPIA compliance board deemed excessive.  The County finally agreed to produce the data in return for a $990 fee.  The data appeared to show that prior to the light being re-timed, out of the four lanes being monitored, more than 55% were assigned to the left turn lane.  After the 0.5second increase, the number of violations assigned to the left lane appeared to have declined approximately 67%.   While correlation does not prove causality, if even a fraction of this reduction were attributable to the yellow light increase that would appear to be a significant safety benefit.  The data further showed that up to another 40% of the remaining left turn red light running violations were within 0.5s of the light turning red, meaning up to another 40% of the left turn violations might also disappear if the left turn yellow was increased another half second to match the 4.0s time on the straight through approach.

Montgomery County has repeatedly asserted there was "no public interest" in the disclosure of this data. No refunds were issued for citations at Georgia Avenue where the signal was non-compliant with SHA policy, despite the fact that the county had been reminded of this policy by an SHA memo  in May of 2015.

No local government officials appeared in person to oppose HB 204.  However the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO), a lobbying organization which represents county governments including the six counties which run red light camera programs, and which often opposes bills which local governments officials are afraid to oppose in person.  When asked by a committee member whether MACO's opposition to the bill was due to possible loss of revenue, MACO responded it was not. The Fiscal policy notes for HB 204 state "Potentially, then,  the  duration  of  some  yellow  lights  could  increase  by  as  much  as  one  second.  Accordingly, the number of violations captured by red light cameras at those intersections may decrease significantly and result in fewer citations."  and also stated "Local  government  revenues  for  jurisdictions  operating  red  light  camera systems  decrease, potentially significantly,  beginning  in  FY  2019."  The observed reduction in left lane violations at Georgia Ave at Seminary Road would work out to about $100,000 per year in revenue for just one lane at one camera location.

The bill is currently before the Environment and Transportation Committee.

Additional Information:
Text Of HB204
Fiscal Policy Notes for HB204
WTOP: MD Bill wants drivers seeing more yellow, not red, at traffic lights
Fox5 News: Proposed Bill Would Increase the Length of Yellow Signals at Red Light Camera Intersections in Maryland