Howard County's speed camera program has caught more than 6,000 speeding drivers and raked in more than $180,000 in fines during its first four months in operation, according to figures released by the police department.
The success of the program, however, will not be measured in revenue, but in miles per hour, according to county police Chief William McMahon.
"We wanted to slow people down," McMahon said.
He added that it is too soon to tell whether the cameras have led to people driving slower near schools.
Speed cameras have been allowed in Maryland since a state law passed in 2009. In May 2011, the Howard County Council passed a bill permitting up to eight speed cameras to operate in school zones on weekdays between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m.
The county has two cameras, which first started snapping shots in October. During a trial period from Oct. 17 through Nov. 15, 650 warnings were issued.
Once that grace period ended, violators driving 12 mph or more over the speed limit were fined $40.
The traffic camera vans went to 16 schools in November, and the department sent out 682 violations from that two-week period, according to police statistics. In December, the program was expanded to 25 schools and led to 1,920 citations.
The traffic cameras were at 32 schools in January and led to 2,170 citations; February saw 31 schools and 1,502 citations.
"When we did our study in the year or so after the legislation passed, we knew we had a problem with speeding vehicles in our school zones," McMahon said. "The early indications from our program are certainly confirming that."
He said it is too early to decide if and when the department will add more cameras.
As of March 7, $182,360 in fines had been collected. Of that, $87,375 has been paid to ACS Inc., a Dallas-based vendor that provides the speed camera equipment and back office staff.
The speed camera program has cost the county $196,073 through the first week of March, including initial start-up expenses, salaries, equipment, furniture, office supplies and uniforms, according to police department spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.
Some of those costs, including several one-time expenses, were incurred before citations began to be issued, Llewellyn noted.
"We've been trying to hit as many schools as we can ... to serve as a general deterrent," McMahon said. "Although we're hitting all our locations, we are spending more time in those places where the speeds are more outrageous. We want to be where people are most at risk."
The fines are expected to cover the cost of the program over the next fiscal year, Llewellyn said.
The department has 61 different roads on which it can set up its enforcement vans. Some of those roads have multiple possible locations for placing the cameras, Llewellyn said.
After the state government passed its speed camera law, Howard County police conducted a study showing that 65 percent of vehicles in school zones were speeding, and that 18 percent of drivers were going more than 11 mph faster than the speed limit.
While it is too soon to tell statistically whether the cameras have led to slower driving, McMahon said he has heard from people who notice drivers slowing down in school zones, even when there are no speed cameras there that day.
McMahon brushed off those who complain that the vans are too well-marked and easy to spot. (Each week, the department posts online the roads where the cameras will be, though not the exact dates and times.)
"People know where they are," he said. "That's OK. The goal is to get people to slow down."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun