Cheverly, one of the first jurisdictions in Maryland to deploy speed cameras, has year after year reported losses from the automated enforcement program.
Still, town officials are reluctant to get rid of the cameras, crediting them with helping deter speeding that was pervasive before installation six years ago.
“Every year we lose a few dollars and we have a conversation about whether or not we should continue the program,” Mayor Michael Callahan said. “But the conclusion is always that we put the cameras in place to promote safety inside the town — and they have done that.
“People know the cameras are there,” Callahan said. “It slows them down as they go through town. . . . It really is that simple.”
As more drivers have become aware of the cameras, the number of camera-generated speeding tickets issued has declined in Cheverly and many communities across the state. Supporters and law enforcement officials say the shift validates the effectiveness of automated enforcement programs. But the programs have become a burden to some communities that benefited from the significant revenue they generated in the early years and are now struggling to maintain them.
The 45 Maryland jurisdictions with speed-camera programs collected nearly $57 million in fines in fiscal 2015, according to the most recent data provided to the Maryland comptroller. That represents about $3.1 million more than was collected the previous year but $13 million less than fiscal 2013, according to annual reports filed with the state.
There was a rapid expansion of speed-camera programs across Maryland after their use was approved in 2009, but that appears to have peaked, reflecting trends nationwide. The number of camera programs across the country remains steady at 143, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“We are not seeing a whole lot of movement one way or the other as far as new communities adding,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “Over time revenues tend to go down because the public hears about these cameras. That is a sign of success because driver behavior is being changed.”
The declines in revenue have been particularly hard on small towns that were able to use the extra money to buy traffic and police equipment after the recession, officials said.
In Cheverly, a town of about 6,500 residents in Prince George’s County, the two speed cameras on Cheverly Avenue generated nearly $19,500 in fiscal 2015, a significant drop from fiscal 2013 when the program generated $188,077.
Last year’s revenue wasn’t enough to cover the $102,500 in administrative costs to run the program, but the town used funds from a much more prolific red-light-camera program to make up the difference, town administrator David Warrington said.
The town launched its speed-camera program in 2010 to deter drivers from speeding on a roadway used as a cut-through between Routes 50 and 202. Warrington said along with other traffic-calming initiatives, such as speed bumps, the town has tracked declines in speeding and a significant reduction in complaints from residents.
About four miles away, in Mount Rainier, a city with 8,500 residents and an annual budget of about $5 million, revenue from speed cameras plummeted from $1.7 million in 2011 to $4,030 last year — far short of the $41,236 administrative cost of running the program. City officials said they built a reserve during the earlier years and will continue to tap that to pay for the program until the money runs out.
But the news isn’t the same everywhere. Montgomery County, which generates the most money from speed cameras in the state, collected $18.7 million in fiscal 2015 — about $2.1 million more than in the previous year, state data shows. After hefty implementation and administrative costs, the county cleared $10 million.
Montgomery’s program, which started in 2007, has been so successful that it has become a model for jurisdictions across the country, officials said. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that crashes resulting in fatal or serious injuries on county roads where there are speed cameras declined 49 percent by 2013. The report also found that the county’s cameras have reduced the urge to drive more than 10 mph over the posted speed limit by 59 percent, when compared with Fairfax County, Va., which doesn’t use speed cameras.
“It’s an investment in safety,” Adkins said. “People would slow down when they know there is a camera there. They don’t want the hassle. Nobody wants to come home and get a bill in the mail.”
When communities continue their programs despite drops in revenue or even losses, they make a statement to the public that the cameras aren’t being used as revenue generators as many critics have suggested, he said.
Callahan, the Cheverly mayor, said the benefits of the program are so high that he would like Maryland to extend the use of speed cameras beyond school and construction zones — the areas where their use is permitted under state law.
Warrington said the town plans to continue to sustain the automated speed-enforcement program with the red-light-camera revenue. He said the program has yielded good results.
“The benefit of having people think they are going to get a ticket and slowing down is worth the expense as a deterrent to speeding,” Warrington said. “We are not in it for the money. We are in it for safety and getting people to slow down.”