Few Maryland Communities Ready to Set Up Speed Cameras

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The use of automated cameras that give speeders the willies -- and the occasional ticket -- becomes legal throughout Maryland on Thursday, but few communities are prepared to deploy the devices.

Montgomery County and four municipalities within it -- Gaithersburg, Chevy Chase Village, Rockville and Takoma Park -- have been using the cameras since 2006, but no other jurisdictions in the state have taken all of the steps necessary to use them, and some counties say they don't plan to.

Maryland passed its speed camera law in April, allowing the use of the devices across the state. The District uses the cameras; Virginia does not.

According to the law, before cameras can be used in other Maryland jurisdictions, the county or town council must hold a public hearing and give its approval. If the cameras are on federal or state highways, the approval of the State Highway Administration is required.

The Baltimore County Council has authorized the cameras, and the Prince George's County Council is considering an authorization bill. Several Prince George's municipalities -- Riverdale Heights, Berwyn Heights, New Carrollton, Bowie, District Heights and Cheverly -- have plans awaiting final action.

"We're hoping to have the county program up and running by the end of the year," Prince George's spokesman Jim Keary said. "It seems that people acknowledge there is a speeding problem and a need to address it."

Howard County has set aside money for a speed camera program but has yet to approve its use. Police in Baltimore and Frederick have begun collecting the documentation required before a council vote. Anne Arundel County has no immediate plans for the cameras, although Annapolis is considering their use.

No one has approached the highway agency, which has authority over every highway "with a number and that doesn't carry a toll," said spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar.

The law crafted in Annapolis this year reflects a certain legislative awareness that speed cameras could beget speed traps unless precautions were taken.

It requires that the location of each speed camera zone be posted on the jurisdiction's Web site, that prominent signs warning of speed cameras be in place in school zones and on state highways, and that their use in school zones be limited to weekdays between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.

A driver must be clocked at 12 mph or more above the speed limit, and the cameras are not allowed on bridges or in tunnels. For the first 30 days, only warnings can be issued. The maximum fine for a camera violation is $40, and no points are assessed against the car owner's driving record.

The most significant provision, which is intended to prevent a proliferation of speed traps, requires that if a municipality earns more than 10 percent of its total annual revenue from speed cameras, it must give the excess to the state.

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