Ron Ely, a Montgomery County resident who tracks Maryland’s camera initiatives, is concerned about small jurisdictions, which have gained a funding source that can significantly boost their budgets.
“They don’t have to care about the people that live outside the town,” said Ely, founder of the Maryland Drivers Alliance, which opposes automated traffic enforcement. “They don’t need to care what commuters think.”
Local officials are bombarded with complaints from commuters about unreliable equipment and inaccurate camera readings. Jurisdictions have to deal with lawsuits, court hearings and costly technology hiccups.
Last month, Greenbelt officials said the town would issue refunds for 660 speed camera tickets after it found that two cameras were not properly calibrated.
Two years ago, Cheverly ended a contract with Optotraffic, which provided and maintained the town’s camera equipment, after the town discovered several inaccurate readings, including a speed camera that recorded a bicycle at 57 mph.
Riverdale Park recently faced a class-action lawsuit claiming that tens of thousands of speed camera tickets were invalid because they were not properly approved by a police officer. The case was dismissed in May, but it was a delicate topic for town officials, who feared that a win would have cost the town millions of dollars.
Larger jurisdictions have also had their share of setbacks. In late July, Charles County suspended the use of its three speed cameras because at least one was installed outside the school zone signs, in violation of state law. The county is reviewing its program.
Under Maryland law, speed cameras can be used only within half a mile of a school, and the hours of enforcement are limited to between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. The Maryland State Highway Administration can also use speed cameras in work zones.
Recent issues with the speed camera law have shaped public opinion, said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director at the Governors Highway Safety Association. Maryland is known as a national leader in the use of automated speed enforcement and has seen its share of concerns that cameras are being used as revenue enhancers.
But Maryland’s programs work, Adkins said.
“When the public thinks they are going to get a ticket, they slow down,” he said. In areas where speed cameras have been used for years, citations have decreased, leading law enforcement officials to conclude that the cameras help deter speeding — to a degree.
“Do the cameras help? They help in the school zone, but once folks get past it, they go right back to speeding,” Norris said. “You can see the people flying down the road.”
Capital Insight pollsters Scott Clement and Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report. Capital Insight is the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.