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.