Drivers Slow Down Where Speed Cameras Are in Place, Study Says

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

A report to be released today shows Montgomery County's speed cameras are causing drivers to slow down on roads where the cameras are located and suggests that drivers in others parts of the county are easing off the gas for fear that cameras may be nearby.

The data, compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, could boost efforts to place cameras elsewhere in Maryland, an idea Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) proposed recently.

"They are very strong findings," said Anne McCartt, one of the researchers. "We hope that other jurisdictions will read our study and consider using this technology."

Speed camera systems clock how fast vehicles are going, snap pictures and send a ticket to the vehicle's owner. Police like them because officers can be deployed elsewhere. Critics say they are unfair because motorists cannot explain themselves to officers on the spot. They also say the cameras invade people's privacy.

The Montgomery study had its limits. It focused on cameras operated by police employees inside traffic safety minivans, rather than cameras mounted on poles, so drivers could have been tipped off by the vans. Still, the numbers showed:

¿ At locations that had warning signs about the cameras and the actual cameras, the proportion of drivers traveling at 10 mph over the speed limit fell by about 70 percent.

¿ At locations with just the warning signs, the proportion of speeding drivers fell by about 39 percent.

¿ At other locations, with no signs and no cameras, the proportion fell by 15 percent.

Researchers arrived at the statistics by measuring speeds before and after cameras and signs were placed and comparing those sites with similar areas in Northern Virginia that did not have cameras.

The numbers are "telling me that automated enforcement works extremely well," said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nationwide group based in the District.

Along northbound Colesville Road near New Hampshire Avenue, she said, she has watched cars barreling down a hill at speeds topping 65 mph. "I've seen a kid skateboarder there," she said. "It's just insane."

Montgomery rolled out its speed cameras last year. They are used in residential and school areas with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, police officials said. The county has six mobile cameras and 14 mounted cameras and aims to install 16 more mounted cameras. Police provide the locations on the department's Web site.

Citing the success of Montgomery's program, O'Malley announced this month that he would introduce legislation to allow local governments to use speed cameras. The cameras could be placed along highway construction areas across the state, according to O'Malley's legislative agenda.

One ardent critic of speed cameras, Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick), who has called the cameras a "back-door tax on the people of Maryland," said he wasn't swayed by the study's findings.

He said he worries about government increasing its watch on people, citing the oppression his mother experienced in her native Cuba.

"Why not just attach a camera to your person?" he asked. "Is that ultimately where the nanny state wants to go?"

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