3/26/2013Maryland Senate Votes To Cover Up Speed Camera Errors
Maryland Senate votes to gut major provision from speed camera reform bill.
Earlier this year, a number of lawmakers in Maryland vowed to reform the way speed cameras were operated in the state. Officials were rocked by the revelation that more than 5 percent of photo ticket recipients in Baltimore were likely innocent with lax oversight and faulty photo radar equipment to blame for the bogus citations (view legislative auditor's report). On Monday, the state Senate voted 46-1 to cover up future errors.
"Agencies that use speed have thrown a lot of taxpayer funded resources into fighting against a requirement for secondary evidence of speed," Ron Ely, chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance told TheNewspaper. "I think they believe Baltimore's mistake was letting the public have too much information and they are terrified that errors might be proven in their own systems."
Senator James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) had introduced comprehensive legislation meant to address what he saw as the most significant problems in the way the program operated, despite his desire to end the use of cameras entirely ( view original bill, 120k PDF).
"I'm a political pragmatist and I realize it's probably not going to happen," Brochin explained at a Judiciary Committee hearing on his bill. "So what I want to do is a little different here. I want to try to fix the system."
To give innocent vehicle owners a chance of clearing their own name, Brochin wrote a provision requiring pavement markings and accurate time stamps on citation photographs so that the speed calculation made by the machine could be double-checked with a simple time-distance calculation based on the photographs.
"We want to make sure both time-stamped images go along with the picture," Brochin said. "Baltimore County and Howard County are the ones who aren't doing this right. Baltimore city is the one doing it right. We want to take it out to the thousandths of a second. The city's doing it. The vendor for Baltimore County and Howard County isn't doing it."
The amendment also eliminated the proposal to paint lines on the ground to allow for more accurate distance calculations from the photograph. Such lines are used in the neighboring District of Columbia, but lawmakers claimed it would be too expensive to paint the lines.
"You're going to be getting millions and millions of dollars," Brochin said. "The least you can do is be able to assist in [accurately measuring speeds]."
Brochin described how officials set up a "school zone" speed camera outside the Maryland School of Broadcasting, which only has classes for adults who do not walk to class. The committee deleted Brochin's proposed requirement that cameras be located within 500 feet of a school, but it did retain a requirement that the cameras could only be used within a half-mile of elementary and secondary schools. The final bill also requires independent calibration of the speed camera on a quarterly basis. It also clarifies that the original ban on allowing contractors to operate speed cameras in return for a per-ticket cut of the fines collected actually applies to the contractors who run speed cameras in Maryland.
"We know what's been going on," Brochin said. "I can tell you in the Baltimore metropolitan area is an absolute sham. It's turned into a commuter tax. It's all about revenue, and it has nothing to do with fairness."
If passed by the House of Delegates and signed by the governor, Brochin's remaining reforms would take effect on October 1.
A copy of the legislation as it passed the state Senate is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.