Extending Use of Speed Cameras in Md. Should Be a Plus

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Maryland General Assembly and Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) are on the verge of extending use of speed cameras to road work zones and school zones across the state. If the program that develops is similar to the two-year-old pilot project in Montgomery County, then drivers should have nothing to fear except speeding itself.

I was skeptical about the program after Helga Brennan of Silver Spring contacted me last summer about a camera ticket that her husband, Terence, received after driving up windy Wayne Avenue in his tiny Toyota Echo [Dr. Gridlock, Aug. 17]. The citation said he was doing 100 mph, a death-defying act that Terence would not have attempted, because he's just not that kind of guy, and the Echo would not have accomplished, because it's just not that kind of car.

But it's what happened afterward that impressed me: Once the error was brought to the attention of Capt. John Damskey, head of the county police traffic division, and Maurice Nelson, director of the automated enforcement unit, they recognized immediately that the citation had been issued in error, got the Brennans back their $40 fine payment and launched a review of the reviews that are done before citations are issued. The result was a tighter monitoring system for the cameras and the citations.

In other words, they not only corrected an error, but also used it to make the program better, which seems to fit the definition of a pilot project. They say they're not in this to collect money for the county. They're in this to modify drivers' behavior.

Back on Wayne Avenue, traffic appears calmer as it passes by the two cameras, placed near a large school. Many drivers use Wayne as a shortcut into or around downtown Silver Spring, so the traffic is often heavy. But I rarely see those drivers hit the brakes as they approach the cameras. The slowdown begins well before that and continues well after the motorists pass the cameras' view.

If that same sort of behavior modification occurs in front of other schools across the state and in the road work zones, it may well save lives.

Dr. Gridlock appears Thursday in the Extras and Sunday in the Metro section. You can send e-mails to drgridlock@washpost.com. Include your name, community and phone numbers. Some letters are published. Get There: http://blog.washingtonpost.com/getthere.

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