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Maryland Counties See Millions in Speed Camera Revenue

The money from speed cameras is used for extra police officers, investigators and equipment to solve crimes. But opponents say they are more about revenue than safety.

As police departments across the country struggle to hire enough officers to enforce speeding, more jurisdictions are debating whether to install the tracking devices that have been proven in studies to reduce speed, a common factor in fatal car crashes.

But the discussion, which locally is now being waged in Howard County, can be  contentious.

Opponents say that speed cameras are simply revenue-generating devices for counties that could threaten the privacy of drivers and interfere with due process.

Baltimore County, which installed speed cameras as a pilot program last summer, has issued 43,005 tickets from the devices stationed at 15 locations since Nov. 30. In all, the county has charged $1,163,160 in ticket fees from that period. After vendor costs, the county would have $213,578 left–money that officials said would go to public safety projects. Nearly $1 million is paid to the vendor.

Montgomery County, the first in the state to install speed cameras in select residential streets and school zones in 2007, estimated that it would receive more than $13 million in net revenue from fines for fiscal year 2010. The county estimated it would receive about $30 million total, with the balance going to the speed camera vendor.

Ticket revenue for Montgomery County in 2010 was earmarked for items such as five police officers for a gang investigative unit, longer operating hours for the Bethesda and Gaithersburg stations and fire station supplies, according to county documents.

“I’m not in favor of them,” said Doug Howard, an Eldersburg resident who is the president of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. “I think a lot of jurisdictions use them to generate funds, but I don’t know if they’ve been effective as a traffic deterrent.”

Speeding and traffic deaths are closely related, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In a statement to Maryland senators in 2009, the institute said that speeding in 2007 was a contributing factor in 35 percent of 614 total fatal Maryland traffic crashes.

Multiple studies have shown how cameras and warning signs have reduced speeding.

  • Montgomery County saw the proportion of drivers going more than 10 mph above the speed limit decrease by 70 percent on roads where speed cameras were placed, according to an Institute study.
  • Another Institute study of a 2006 pilot speed camera program on Loop 101, the six-lane highway circling the Phoenix metro area, showed the percentage of vehicles going 10 mph above the 65 mph speed limit drop. It decreased from 15 percent before the cameras, to 1 to 2 percent after they were installed.
  • Laurel, which enacted speed cameras with fines on Dec. 22, saw the number of violators driving 12 mph over the 30 mph speed limit on Cherry Lane, the road in front of a high school, drop. It decreased from more than 3,700 before the devices to 700 after, said Police Chief Richard McLaughlin.

“The effect has been phenomenal,” McLaughlin said. “Obviously the reduction in speed is going to reduce the severity of the accident.”

Nearly 90 cities nationally have speed cameras, according to the Institute.

The research, however, has not been as clear on whether the cameras reduce crashes overall.

A  camera program showed a drop in speeding citations but not in crashes within a one-eighth and one-quarter mile radius of the cameras.

However, a 2010 review of 28 studies found that injury and fatal crashes fell as much as 60 percent in areas with speed cameras, according to the institute.

The ACLU of Maryland does not oppose speed cameras, says spokeswoman Meredith Curtis, but it is concerned about whether the data gained from the cameras could be used in other ways besides tracking reckless drivers.

“There are no laws in Maryland that limit how long the data from the cameras can be stored or how it can be used,” Curtis wrote in an email. “In addition, the ACLU has due process concerns, because the tickets are sent to the registered owner of the vehicle, who may or may not have been the driver. "

Since the program started in Montgomery County, less than 1 percent of motorists have contested tickets, according to county data.

Those tickets that have been dismissed include one for a driver taking a passenger to the emergency room and a driver getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle, according to an analysis by the Montgomery County Office of Legislative Oversight.

In Howard County, Executive Ken Ulman and police officials are among those pushing legislation that will allow speed cameras to be placed in school zones.

They say taking that step will save lives.

A  on the legislation is scheduled for 7 p.m., April 20, at the George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive, in Ellicott City.

“Some would ask, ‘How many kids have we had killed in school zones so far, chief?’” Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said at a press conference last month. “Well, I’m not waiting until the answer is ‘Oh, now we have one, let’s go forward.’ That’s time that’s wasted. That’s way too late.”

Police officials said they could not provide data this week on county projections for speed camera revenue.  

However, Ulman said at a budget hearing this week that if the speed camera legislation passed, he would set aside $150,000 from fines to go toward traffic projects, according to the Columbia Flier.

“For those who argue that this is a government money-maker,” Ulman said during the March 8 announcement on the proposed legislation, “every dollar generated by those who speed in school zones goes to public safety.” 

Sean Colin April 20, 2011 at 12:55 AM
To Whoco: If the speed cameras were only operated during school hours, you might have an argument, but they run 24/7/365-looks to me it is about the money. Second, how many children have been injured, where are the statistics that will show a decrease in injuries to anyone, not just children in school zones. The truth is, there are none, there will be no fewer injuries, because none have been reported.
Sean Colin April 20, 2011 at 01:40 AM
One last thought-speed in and of itself is typically not the cause of an accident. You cannot legislate against inattentive driving. I would much rather have someone be hyper focused on their driving whether they are speeding or not, than a daydreaming person going the speed limit http://www.banthecams.org/201104191115/Driver-error-is-13-times-more-dangerous-than-breaking-the-speed-limit-report-reveals.html
WHoco Citizen April 20, 2011 at 10:36 AM
Arguments against driver entitlement aside, I would not support the cameras if they ran 24/7. With the technology available, there's no reason that they can't be timed to coincide with school hours and ignore holidays, weekends, summer break, etc. Anything else is purely a moneymaking operation, although I would bet that there's a good argument in front of a judge to throw out any ticket that's outside of school hours.. I also don't think the program would be valid if there wasn't some sort of big, blinking sign at each zone saying "SPEED CAMERAS IN OPERATION" or some such to let the driver know it's time to slow down.
David Maier April 20, 2011 at 12:33 PM
What is the proposed ratio between the amount of the ticket and the revenue received for our County to use as it pleases? Camera technology is not rocket science. Is there a company in Howard County that can handle this job? Will the contract be a no bid contract like Baltimore County? How long will "Big Brother" keep the information? Can the information be used by another, other than the issuing officer, for any other purpose? If the current legislation denies use of the information by others, what will prevent future Councils from changing the law? If money isn't the issue and safety is, why don't we issue warnings for the first two incidents and then issue tickets after that? If money wasn't the issue, why don't we narrow the lanes to help reduce speed? If money is the issue, what is the cost of one of these camera? There are 72 schools in Howard County, will there be 72 camera locations? Some schools are on main collectors, like Route 108, Route 97,etc. Cars whiz by at 40 and 50 mph. does it make sense to put camera in these locations? Isn't it the neighborhood schools that are the issue? Or is it money for money's sake? I know there was a problem in the Mayfield school area and the roadway improvements solved the problem there. Why is this an issue right now? In the middle of a recession, this doesn't make sense! Like my Uncle used to say "No matter who you vote for - Government always wins.
Sarah Sanderson June 29, 2013 at 07:12 AM
I think the automated speed camera policy is a fraud. It is a policy propagandized under the guise “safety” concerns, but it is only a means for extra revenue collection. Most drivers in Maryland do not intentionally drive recklessly or at unsafe speeds. Modern day vehicles are so smooth and quiet that exceeding speed limits above ten miles an hour in zones set at ridiculously low values such as 30 mph are hardly noticeable and endanger no one. Perhaps if less money was wasted by useless government bureaucracy, these slithery means of extra tax collection would be unnecessary. I never voted for such cameras, and I would wager that 90% of all citizens outside of the contractors who create these devices to fill their own pockets with money would never vote to have them installed. Democracy has become a sham in this country and government officials who are public servants should be ashamed of themselves. If it was truly about safety, then any money collected should simply be donated to a charity of choice by the perpetrating individual, but we know that’s never going to happen because we know exactly what the slithery purpose is for such devices.

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