Use of Speed Cameras Increasing; Debate Over Both Speed and Red Light Cameras Remains

A December 27 Washington Examiner article discusses the expanding use of speed cameras in the Washington-Metro area and the effect speed cameras have had in Montgomery County.  MACo has supported the reasonable placement and use of both red light and speed cameras as a method to reduce dangerous traffic behaviors and to let law enforcement officers focus limited resources on other public safety concerns.  In Maryland, 2009 legislation limits speed cameras to highway construction zones, school zones, and Montgomery County residential areas with posted speed limits of 35 miles per hour or less.  A driver can only be ticketed if he or she is traveling at least 12 miles over the posted speed limit.  Different rules apply in the District of Columbia.

Prince George’s County plans to add an average of six cameras every month — at least one this week — aiming for 72 by July, said Maj. Robert Liberati, project manager of speed citation for the Prince George’s County Police.  …

Though Montgomery County has had speed cameras since 2006, the county is adding 10 new cameras in the coming months, which will bring their total to 78 cameras and six vans with speed-monitoring equipment, said Capt. Thomas Didone, director of the Montgomery County Police traffic division.   …

The District of Columbia also expanded its program in the fall, adding 19 cameras in September.  …

According to law enforcement officials, the cameras are effective in getting drivers to slow down.

“I’ve written thousands and thousands of citations,” Didone said. “These cameras have had far more effect in getting people to change their behavior … than I have had in 25 years of writing speeding tickets.”

Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger pointed to declining numbers of citations over the last few years as evidence that drivers are changing their behavior. In fiscal 2011 — which ended June 30 — 329,646 citations were issued, far below the 505,368 issued in fiscal 2009.

 However, the debate continues over the use of both speed cameras and red light cameras.  On December 28, Maryland Reporter.com published two articles summarizing some of the commonly argued pros and cons.  The first article discusses a recent report released by the Maryland Public Interest Research Group (Maryland PIRG) on the perceived dangers of “privatizing” law enforcement through the use of speed and red light cameras.

The report goes through many of the issues that states and communities have had with the traffic cameras issuing citations – and costing both motorists and communities dearly.

“It looked at whether or not communities that put up cameras have the public’s interests at heart, or whether they are looking for revenues first and are signing contracts forfeiting decisions about public safety to companies,” said Jenny Levin, a state advocate for PIRG.  …

Speed and red light cameras, PIRG’s study states, are often used as ways for areas to get more revenues in bad economic times. They essentially shift enforcement from police officers to automated devices, and are seen by opponents as contracting out traffic cop work to private companies.  …

Maryland PIRG’s Levin said that the study shows that people, not profits, should be the top consideration in speed and red light enforcement.

“In difficult budget times, when jurisdictions are giving out private contracts for safety enforcement, they need to be vigilant and make sure that the public safety is coming first,” she said.

The second article offers thoughts from both supporters and detractors of speed and red light cameras.  
“Cameras reduce crashes. Cameras save lives,” said Anne Fleming, senior vice president of communications for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an independent, non-profit organization that conducts traffic research and aims to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities.  …

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said that the cameras in work zones help discourage speeding and make the roads safer for workers and drivers.

However, Anderson said that some speed cameras in communities are being used more as a revenue generator rather than a tool for safety.  …

“I don’t think that the testimony of a machine that is run by a company that makes money off the number of tickets issued should be sufficient to find me guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Ron Ely, founder of StopBigBrotherMD.org, a website that opposes automated traffic enforcement. “I am entitled to face my accuser, a human accuser.”  …

Studies have differed over the effectiveness of cameras in preventing accidents. For example, the Federal Highway Administration released a study on the effectiveness of red light cameras at preventing accidents in April 2005. The report studied 132 intersections with red light cameras in seven locations around the nation, including Baltimore, Howard County and Montgomery County. The report found that there was a 25 percent decrease in total right-angle crashes, but a 15 percent increase in total rear-end crashes.

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