2/12/2014Maryland: Local Government Blocks Speed Camera Accuracy Reform
Speed camera providers and county lobbyists block photo enforcement accuracy reform in Maryland state Senate.
The photo enforcement industry has been reeling from admissions of widespread bribery and evidence of widespread speed camera inaccuracy. In Baltimore, Maryland, 58 percent of citations issued by one camera went to drivers who were not speeding, but lobbyists for speed camera companies and local governments have scrambled to ensure lawmakers do not attempt any major corrective action.
On Tuesday, the Maryland state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee considered a bill that would provide minor reforms. It would require cities and counties to have a local official responsible for voiding clearly erroneous speed camera tickets. It would also require "calibration" of camera systems on a quarterly, not annual, basis. It narrows the definition of a school zone to mean only areas where kindergarten through twelfth grade students walk to school and clarifies that a "speed camera operator" includes any company that "administers or processes citations."
These changes are meant to resolve many of the legalistic arguments localities have used to place cameras on major commuter routes and to evade an existing ban on per-ticket contracts with speed camera companies. The measure specifically does not address the problem of uncovering faulty tickets that were found in Baltimore, Maryland. The bill sponsor, state Senator James Brochin (D-Baltimore County), explained that he could not include such provisions because of the opposition of local governments.
"One of the things I did to placate places like Montgomery County was, in last year's bill I said you had to show the progression of the car to see how fast it was going," Brochin said. "Baltimore City has that capability because they have these things called time stamps, but in Montgomery County your chief of police and your people said 'Look, we don't do it that way, we don't show progression.' So I took that out of the bill."
Howard County estimates the quarterly calibration requirement would increase costs by $36,000 per year. Prince George's County would lose 40 out of 150 zones because the county's vendor places speed cameras in "school zones" where there are no children. Representatives from the Maryland Association of Counties testified that even the remaining reforms were too far too much to accept. The official legislative analysis of Senate Bill 350 suggests ensuring accuracy of camera tickets would cost localities a lot of money.
"Local revenues decrease -- likely significantly -- due to the expanded use of warning periods, restricted times for use of speed monitoring in school zones, and as fewer erroneous violations result in a paid citation," the Department of Legislative Services policy note explains.
The Maryland Drivers Alliance supported many of the reforms but suggested the bill needs to do more to address the accuracy problems that led to an estimated 70,000 tickets issued to Baltimore residents who were not speeding.
"Unfortunately, we are looking at a much weaker bill than was discussed last year, despite the fact that we know the problems are much worse than were understood last year," the group's chairman, Ron Ely, said. "So many local governments who have entrenched their systems now oppose any changes to their sloppy, improper and deceptive practices."
The Maryland Drivers Alliance is calling on the General Assembly to require independent performance audits of every speed camera program to guarantee accuracy.
A copy of Senate Bill 350 is available in a PDF file at the source link below.