Maryland highway work zones rack up speed camera violations

The slogan “Click It or Ticket” was a marketing gimmick to get drivers to buckle up, but a new iteration in Maryland and the District might be this: We click it, and we ticket.

That has nothing to do with seat belts and everything to do with speed cameras, whose clicking produced 473,708 tickets in Maryland last year, worth $18.9 million if everybody paid up. District speed cameras, in the first seven months of fiscal 2012, pumped out 225,000 speeding and red-light tickets with a value of $30.3 million.

The Maryland program was inaugurated to protect construction zone workers and because work zones can be dangerous due to lane shifts and uneven pavement.

The mobile work zone cameras on the Capital Beltway in Silver Spring generated nearly 31,000 speeding tickets between August and year’s end, according to data compiled by the American Automobile Association. Statewide, the auto advocates calculated, the program has issued almost 1 million tickets since its inception three years ago.

The work zone ticket program has gained a measure of controversy with some drivers, who contend that they shouldn’t be ticketed for exceeding the reduced speeds in work zones during hours when construction workers aren’t there. Last July an angry driver attacked a speed-enforcement vehicle on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

“Although motorists aren’t as apt to break the posted speed limit when they sense speed cameras are present, they are also clearly bothered by the fact that they can be slapped with a speeding citation while driving through a work zone during the hours when no workers are present on the site and even if no work is taking place, including on legal holidays,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

He said a study showed that 63 percent of the work zone tickets were issued when workers were not there.

Maryland legislators will hold a hearing Tuesday on proposals that would limit speed camera use in work zones to hours where workers are on the job and prohibit relocation of a speed camera “for the purpose of increasing revenue.”

“Similar bills to this effect have met with defeat in the past,” Townsend said.

Advocates for the cameras point out that they do more than protect workers. They say 80 percent of those who are killed in work zones are drivers or passengers.

In 2009, there were 667 work zone fatalities nationwide, a decrease from 720 the previous year and from 1,058 in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Six of the 2009 deaths were in Maryland.

Maryland’s State Highway Administration says drivers are slowing, on average, by 5 mph in work zones. State police report a 65 percent drop in the number of drivers breaking the speed limit by 10 mph or more in those zones. Drivers who exceed the limit by 12 mph or more get tickets.

Prince George’s County officials this month activated speed cameras at two dozen new locations near schools, expanding on a school-zone safety program launched last year.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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