The video speed trap: an investigation (part 1)

According to a published report, the city of Fruitland has lightened the wallets of unsuspecting area drivers to the tune of nearly $4,000 by using speed cameras in school zones – even when school isn’t in session.

Late last year, a bill passed in the 2009 General Assembly session allowed local counties and municipalities to begin collecting revenue from people speeding through school zones. If you’re caught doing 12 m.p.h. or more over the posted speed limit, you get a citation in the mail which costs you $40. Sure, you can fight this in court, but unlike in criminal cases you’re presumed guilty until you can prove either the plates were stolen or someone else was driving the car – in that case, the fine accrues to them. The phrase in the law, “(a)djudication of liability shall be based on a preponderance of evidence” is one best known for civil court.

The measure itself has an interesting history – it lost in third reading 23-24 but was resurrected by a rare motion to reconsider the third reading by Senator Ulysses Currie (D – Prince George’s). Four Senators (all Democrats) changed their votes to pass the bill 27-20 – local Senators Colburn and Stoltzfus voted no. Subsequently, the House passed the bill 94-41, with local Delegates Cane, Conway, Elmore, and Mathias voting yes while Eckardt and Haddaway properly voted against adoption.

With the prospect of an October change in the law, some jurisdictions chomped at the bit thinking about this “free” revenue stream. The city of Fruitland was no different, convening a special meeting September 15, 2009 as a demonstration of the camera equipment. (Note that Councilmen Carey, Lokey, and Ortiz were “extremely interested.”)

Needless to say on November 10, 2009, after a brief public hearing, all four Fruitland council members voted in favor of adopting the ordinance allowing speed cameras in school zones. In February, the contract with RedSpeed and Brekford Corporation to operate them was finalized and operation began March 23rd. Noted their release:

The State of Maryland’s significant expansion and implementation of speed control systems throughout the state is estimated to generate $65.3 million in new photo ticket revenues by 2014 and an estimated $9.8 million opportunity for private sector companies servicing the public safety landscape. (Emphasis mine.)

RedSpeed bills itself as, “a leading provider of turnkey traffic enforcement solutions,” while Brekford specializes in “upfitting” law enforcement vehicles. In this case, a garden-variety Ford Escape SUV has the camera equipment installed within. I’ll have more on the vehicle in part 2.

Unfortunately, it appears we’re stuck with these cameras for the time being, and they may be spreading across county lines because Princess Anne is considering them for school zones in their community. An initial effort to bring the law to referendum last year fell short of the required number of signatures and died. With majority Democrats in charge of the General Assembly (and that estimated $65.3 million at stake) it’s doubtful any other rollback can be done on the state level. One website devotes itself to the abuses of speed cameras in Maryland, with each offense being more proof that communities are in it for the Benjamins.

Of course, some may ask why it’s such a big deal – if you don’t want a ticket then don’t speed.

The problem with this approach of fundraising is similar to that of “sin” taxes. Revenue rarely meets expectations, so having this camel’s nose under the tent is going to lead to expanded use of speed and red-light cameras in the name of safety. And while this purportedly frees up police officers to combat other crime, in truth they’ll mostly be running a different manner of traffic enforcement.

In part 2 I’ll describe the situation on the ground in Fruitland and possibility for abuse.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.