6/4/2014Maryland: AAA Celebrates Speed Camera Coverup
Maryland speed camera reform law takes effect, but very little is expected to change.
A series of changes to Maryland's speed camera statute took effect Sunday, and AAA Mid-Atlantic is celebrating the new law as "real reformation." Not so fast, say motorist advocacy groups who say it will be business as usual.
"Most previously existing contracts will remain in place for years," Ron Ely, chairman of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, told TheNewspaper. "There were calls for audits, what happened to that? AAA is selling out on the cheap."
Backers of the speed camera program, including AAA, huddled behind closed doors last year to discuss a strategy to deal with the public relations hit from the release of a secret audit that found Baltimore's speed cameras were issuing citations to vehicle owners who were innocent at least five percent of the time -- including sending citations to drivers who were stationary (view audit). A state board later found that the strategy meetings violated state law (view Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board ruling). Fixing the five percent perception became a top priority for local jurisdictions and the industry.
"In addition to prohibiting the payment of a contractor on a bounty, or a per-ticket basis, other reforms include the requirement for speed camera contractors or vendors to pay liquidated damages to the jurisdiction if more than five percent of the violations issued are erroneous, as defined by the new law," Lon Anderson, Managing Director of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said in a May 29 release praising the newly effective law.
The Maryland Drivers Alliance maintains that the statute effectively locks in the five percent error rate seen in Baltimore as an acceptable practice, because the statute imposes no penalty on a city or contractor that issues one out of every twenty tickets to an innocent vehicle owner.
AAA was instrumental in the passage of Maryland's speed camera statute, wining and dining lawmakers to advance the company's agenda. AAA sells insurance, and in states like California and Arizona, photo tickets allow AAA to raise rates on customers to generate additional income. In Missouri, appellate court decisions may convert the state from photo tickets that carry no points to citations that must carry points to be valid, which would be a big win for the insurance industry and AAA.
Attorney Timothy Leahy fought jurisdictions that ignored the original speed camera law's prohibition on per ticket compensation in a case that made it all the way to Maryland's highest court (view decision). He says the new law will close the loophole that allows localities to claim they are exempt from the original ban on paying per-ticket bounties to speed camera contractors by using a verbal trick.
"I think the new language is clear," Leahy told TheNewspaper. "Is it a guarantee? No. The other problem is that it's self-enforcing. Since no attorney general has gone after the towns for violating the statute, on this or the requirement to have a law enforcement officer review the tickets, the jurisdictions can act with the knowledge that the penalty provision isn't likely to be enforced. This is especially true as the jurisdiction will still have a financial incentive not to return the collected money."
In a press release Monday, Maryland camera vendor Brekford Corp. celebrated the fact that it is continuing with existing per-ticket contracts in the cities of Hagerstown, Laurel and Salisbury.
"The act states that a presently existing obligation, contract, or contract right may not be impaired in any way and that the act does not repeal any current obligation, contract, or contract right in existence before the effective date of the act through June 1, 2017," the Brekford release explained.
For the next three years, these cities will continue with the bounty system without violating the new law.