1/23/2013Maryland Considers Photo Ticket Reform
Bipartisan effort takes on photo enforcement abuse in Maryland in light of embarrassing revelations.
Lawmakers in Maryland are considering legislation to rein in the use of photo enforcement. In the past few months, a series of embarrassing revelations have cast doubt on the legality and accuracy of speed camera citations, including the admission that more than 5 percent of photo ticket recipients in Baltimore were likely innocent. Supporters of the technology in Annapolis are now scrambling to save a program that has lost credibility in the public eye.
Long-time opponents of automated ticketing machine like state Senator James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) also see this as an opportunity to introduce meaningful reform. On Friday, Brochin introduced a bill cracking down on the most brazen methods municipalities have been using to avoid abiding by restrictions the legislature put in place in the original authorizing statute (View Senate Bill 207, 120k PDF).
For example, Montgomery County and other jurisdictions have been paying their camera contractors on a per-ticket basis, even though state code section 21-809 unambiguously states "the contractor's fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid." Local governments claim the provision does not apply to them because they "operate" the cameras, not the contractors responsible for creating and mailing every citation. Last August, Maryland's highest court refused to stop the practice (view decision). Brochin's legislation would re-write the section so that it states contingent fees are banned if the contractor "administers and processes civil citations," eliminating any dispute about the term "operate."
Existing law limits the use of cameras to streets within a half-mile radius of a school. Jurisdictions have taken advantage of the lack of specificity by creating "school zones" that did not previously exist for the express purpose of issuing photo tickets. Instead of protecting children walking to school, some of the zones are placed near colleges or locations with no pedestrian traffic. Brochin addresses this by limiting the use of cameras to within 500 feet of elementary or secondary school property. He tackles the accuracy issue by requiring vehicle speed verification lines be painted on roadway and a time stamp used on every photo giving ticket recipients a secondary means of challenging the allegation of speeding.
On the House side, Delegate John W. E. Cluster, Jr. (R-Baltimore County) tackles the accuracy issues that have been raised by the StopBigBrotherMD.org website, which found jurisdictions failing to document routine testing procedures, as required by law. Currently, the cameras verify their own accuracy by performing a start-up self-test. Cluster's bill would require independent calibration tests be performed on a daily basis. It would also ensure ticket recipients are provided access to a video of the alleged infraction so they can challenge the citation (View House Bill 166, 120k PDF).