That makes Montgomery County’s automated speed-enforcement program the most lucrative in a state where 46 other jurisdictions operate speed cameras.
Statewide, revenues from speed cameras continue to dwindle. Cameras across the state generated nearly $53.8 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2014, according to the latest available state report. A year earlier, the revenue was nearly $70 million.
Still, Montgomery County has not seen its speed-camera revenues drop by much. The $16.6 million in fiscal year 2014 was only about $400,000 less than in the previous year, state data shows. It’s important to note that after subtracting hefty implementation and administrative costs, the county gets only about $8 million, according to the report.
County budget estimates suggest that fines in fiscal 2015, which ended June 30, will remain at the same level as in 2014.
Montgomery County police officials said they would be unable to answer questions about its traffic enforcement program without a formal public information request.
Four other jurisdictions within Montgomery also run speed cameras, and are making sizable amounts of money from them. Chevy Chase pulled in $1.3 million, Gaithersburg $2.3 million, Rockville $1.5 million and Takoma Park $1.7 million. Add that to the money the county made and drivers caught by speed cameras in the jurisdiction paid $23.4 million in fiscal year 2014.
Commuters in the county can also be fined for running red lights. The county’s red-light cameras generated an additional $4.3 million in fiscal 2014 and $3.9 million in fiscal 2015, according to the county’s recently approved budget.
Montgomery County debuted speed cameras in 2007 after the Maryland General Assembly gave the county authority to launch an automated traffic enforcement program. The state expanded the program in 2009, allowing other Maryland jurisdictions to install the devices that have since generated millions of dollars.
The Maryland Drivers Alliance, a group that keeps track of the state’s camera activities and opposes the automated enforcement, has been critical of the county’s program suggesting that the county’s intentions are to generate revenue and not solely to promote public safety.
The group said an investigation earlier this year revealed that the county speed cameras issued several erroneous citations in recent months by issuing them to the wrong vehicle.
A task force with the Greater Olney Civic Association also recently issued a report noting that speed limits had been lowered from 40 mph to 30 mph in a part of Olney just before speed monitoring cameras were installed. The group, which made several recommendations to the county’s automated traffic enforcement unit, also criticized the transparency of the county in releasing data about the citations. Olney is disproportionately monitored by speed cameras, the group said in the report, noting that in 2013, Olney had three of the top five grossing speed cameras in the county.
In a letter to the civic association, the county’s traffic division said the flaws found in the report are unfounded and added: “We recognize that there is a vocal segment of the community that opposes automated speed enforcement even though it is an effective and efficient mechanism for reducing speeds on our roads and improving public safety. Respectfully, we submit that the answer is not to neuter the Safe Speed program, but to obey the speed limits.”
Two other jurisdictions generating revenue from speeding enforcement are Baltimore and Prince George’s counties. Baltimore County collected $5.1 million in fiscal year 2014, and it was one of the few jurisdictions that saw its speed-camera revenue go up. In FY2013, the county made $3.6 million from the program.
In Prince George’s, revenues from the county’s speed-camera program have dropped significantly. The speed cameras there generated $10.25 million in fiscal year 2014, down from $13.1 million a year earlier, according to state data. After paying administrative costs, the county had a net revenue of nearly $5.6 million from the speeding citations.
Other 19 smaller jurisdictions within Prince George’s have speed-camera programs and together collected an additional $7.5 million. Some of the areas have reported deficits, however, saying that the cost to run the cameras exceeded the amount of fees collected.
New Carrollton, for example, reported a deficit of $74,972. Although the city collected $129,280 from speed violators, the cost of running the program was $204,252, the city said in the state report. Mount Rainier and Cheverly also reported losses.
At least 139 communities have speed-camera programs and 443 have red-light cameras across the United States, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Maryland and the District are known as national leaders in the use of automated speed enforcement. Virginia does not allow speed cameras.
Under Maryland law, speed cameras can be used only within half a mile of a school, and the hours of enforcement are limited to between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Drivers must be going at least 12 miles over the posted speed limit before they are fined, and the $40 ticket can be sent out only after the infractions have been reviewed by a sworn police officer. Montgomery County also has cameras in residential communities, and those are said to be operational 24/7. The Maryland State Highway Administration can also use speed cameras in work zones.