Even if a work zone is empty, the speed cameras are there for a reason

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am really mad. I feel like I've been taken. On a recent trip to Pennsylvania I was on Interstate 695 heading north to I-83. There are many work zones in Maryland, all with signs alerting drivers to photo enforcement.

I drove through a work area where no one was working, there was no equipment in the road, and there were no detours or cones diverting traffic to a new pattern. It was a Sunday morning.

I was driving along with the flow, which was above the posted work-zone limit, but not unusual for a regular stretch of that road. I was surprised to see a white flash as I passed a parked car on the side of the road.

The ticket arrived a week later. I feel that I and many others are being issued tickets that are undeserved. Why is Maryland issuing tickets in inactive work zones on a Sunday?

I understand that during the week when workers are present there is a real danger from speeding traffic, but on a weekend when no activity is taking place, there is no reason for the speed to be lowered from the normal postings. It is virtually impossible to argue the ticket, since you cannot do it by mail, and taking the day to go to Maryland is unrealistic and more expensive than paying the ticket.

Can anything be done, or is it impossible to fight city hall?

-- Helene Schlossberg, Arlington

I'm usually a fan of fighting city hall, but in this particular case, I think I'd pay Maryland the $40. In saying so, I know I'm instead fighting a great many readers who share Schlossberg's frustration with the Maryland law allowing traffic enforcement cameras in highway work zones.

I think the law, which will be a year old on Oct. 1, was written conservatively to deal with a very legitimate traffic safety concern: the high number of fatalities in work zones. For the Maryland cameras to trigger tickets, drivers must be traveling at least 12 mph over the posted speed limit. Keeping within 12 mph of the limit in a hazardous area is a reasonable demand.

There are only four sites where drivers now encounter the mobile camera units, and there's no secret about where they are: There are two on the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) at the Liberty Road and Charles Street interchanges, and two on I-95, in the work zone for the Intercounty Connector north of the District and between Chesaco Road and Route 40 in Baltimore County.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company