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Posted on March 21, 2008:
As always, I'll be right up front with you. I don't like the whole concept of "Big Brother" speed cameras. But let's call speed cameras what they really are. Speed monitoring cameras are revenue grabbing wolves masquerading in the sheep clothing of public safety.
The O'Malley Administration is backing legislation to give local jurisdictions the power to use cameras to catch speeders. The cameras can be placed on a highway in a residential district with a maximum speed limit of 45 mph, in a school zone or in a highway work zone on expressways or on controlled access highways where the speed limit is 45 mph or more.
Auto owners traveling 10 mph or more over the speed limit will get a $75 citation. Although speeding is considered a moving violation, speeders caught by cameras would not have the violation charged against their driving record. For speeders caught by police, those rules do not apply.
The speed camera bill does not require the use of cameras for any county that does not want them. I don't consider myself a cynical person, but the odds are that after a few years, legislation to require all counties use speed cameras will be before the General Assembly. To me, that is a troubling aspect of the bill.
Certainly, we have seen similar legislative encroachment before. Remember the law to require that seat belts be worn. When the law was first enacted, failure to wear a seat belt was a secondary offense. Violators could be cited for failure to wear a seat belt, only if they were stopped for another moving violation. Today, failure to wear a seat belt is a primary offense. The law has been changed. Yes indeed, drivers can be stopped and cited for failure to wear a seat belt.
Speed cameras are popular because they are revenue producers…and the hunger for more revenue is a governmental addiction. In some form or another, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia use speed cameras. On the other hand, New Jersey, West Virginia and Wisconsin prohibit any type of photo-radar enforcement of traffic laws.
Currently, Montgomery County, the only Maryland county that uses speed cameras, raked in $2.8 million in the first 6 months of their use. And that's only one county in less than a year of camera use. It should be noted that Montgomery County law allows cameras only where the speed limit is 35 mph. Violators are fined $40, considerably less than the $75 fine under the proposed state legislation.
There's little doubt that the speed camera law will win legislative approval. After all, the 2003 General Assembly approved legislation to allow the use of speed cameras. Governor Robert Ehrlich vetoed the measure. Current law allows the use of red light monitoring cameras only.
I am aware that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Governors' Highway Safety Association and several public opinion polls nationwide support the use of speed cameras as public safety tools. Studies show that where speed cameras are located, speeding is reduced by as much as 70%. If speed cameras really reduce traffic injuries and fatalities, of course, I would be foolish to oppose them. However, the statistics on speed cameras ability to deter traffic accidents are mixed.
A United Kingdom Department of Transportation study showed that when conventional speed cameras were used in construction zones, there was a 55% increase in accidents. Then they were used in non-construction zones, there was a 31% accident increase. When speed-averaging cameras were used in construction zones, there was a 4.5% increase in accidents. When speed-averaging cameras were used in non-construction zones, there was a 6.7% in accidents. However, when police patrols were increased in construction zones, there was a 27% decrease in accidents. Increased police patrols in non-construction zones produced a 10% decrease in accidents.
It should be noted that UK's Transportation Department tried to suppress this information. It had to be obtained with a freedom of information request.
An October 4, 2005 Washington Post article noted that accidents doubled at intersections with red light cameras in Washington, D.C. The Stockton Record in California noted on December 27, 2005 that at seven intersections with cameras, there was an 8% increase in accidents.
Few things in the world are certain. But one certainty is that government will give the stamp of approval on just about any new way to take dollars from our pockets. I sincerely hope that the speed cameras turn out to be the effective public safety tools they are proclaimed to be. I know they will turn out to be the lucrative sources of revenue they have proven to be.
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