Mounted Speed Camera Debuts in Montgomery

By Mariana Minaya
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Montgomery County police will install their first mounted speed camera near Wheaton High School, where since May roving vans equipped with cameras caught some of the most frequent violators in the county.

The camera will be installed at Randolph and Bluhill roads sometime next week, police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said. Of the 11 school zones monitored by county police, that intersection was by far the worst, police said. From May 2 to Aug. 15, a speed camera van captured nearly 50 incidents per hour of drivers going at least 11 miles over the 35 mph speed limit.

An additional 30 cameras will be mounted throughout the county in the next six months as part of the Safe Speed campaign. The fixed cameras will be placed in residential communities and school zones that are prone to speeding vehicles, officials said.

"Unfortunately, we're here to remind the citizens of Montgomery County again of the need to slow down and observe safety regulations in order to prevent tragedies," such as the four pedestrians killed in the county during August, said County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) yesterday during a news conference near Wheaton High.

Under a 2006 law, Montgomery became the first and only jurisdiction in Maryland to monitor speeding with cameras. Speed violations come with a $40 fine but carry no points on a license. Virginia allows local governments install red-light cameras. The District has speed and red-light cameras.

About half of the District's red-light enforcement and stationary speed cameras had been out of service for months before they were handed over to a Phoenix-based firm.

Montgomery officials say the cameras have been effective, pointing to the decline in citations for speeding at Randolph and Bluhill roads over several months. Police issued 60 speeding violations per hour during the month of May. In June, they issued 56; in July, 46.

Police have identified 15 to 20 locations where additional cameras will be installed within six months, said Tom Didone, county police commander of the 5th District. Some of the sites include Randolph Road at Dewey Road and Montgomery Village Avenue, Woodfield Road, Travilah Road, Richter Farm Road, Powder Mill Road, Calverton Boulevard and Grosvenor Lane. In most places, there will be two cameras per location to monitor traffic in both directions.

"These were selected because they had a high traffic volume, and drivers were resistant to behavior change," Didone said. Officials decided where to put the cameras based on traffic volume, crash data and speeding violations. "They needed more focused enforcement. . . . When the vans went away, the speeds went back up," he said.

Other jurisdictions in the county with their own police forces, such as Rockville and Gaithersburg, operate speed monitoring plans using cameras. Rockville installed four permanent cameras in front of Rockville High School on Baltimore Road and Wooton High School on Wooton Parkway that became operational yesterday. Gaithersburg also plans to install two permanent cameras, county police said.

Police will increase their presence near schools for a few weeks when classes start Monday, Didone said. Mobile camera vans will be concentrated around school sites; patrol officers will accompany crossing guards as they assist students; and traffic officers will be watching for drivers passing school buses and for drivers not yielding to children.

"We want people in the morning and evening rush hours to really get the message: We're back. Drive extra slow," Didone said. This year, there have been 11 pedestrian deaths in Montgomery. Last year, 18 pedestrians died, and there were 10 pedestrian deaths in 2005, police said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company