More than 40 percent of all speed camera tickets issued to drivers in Maryland highway work zones have been doled out between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., times when crews often aren’t on the job.
That picture emerged when The Baltimore Sun graphed, hour by hour, all million or so work-zone citations generated by the State Highway Administration between December 2009 and June 30.
Over 24 hours, the tally rises and falls like a wave. The highest number of tickets was issued between 11 a.m. and noon — nearly 102,000. The low point came between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., with only 359 tickets for exceeding the speed limit by at least 12 mph.
The numbers don’t surprise Eric Tabacek, division chief in the highway administration’s Office of Traffic and Safety. He says two key factors affect citation volume: congestion and the number of cars on the highway. “Once you get a mix of free flow of a lot of traffic,” he said, “that’s when you get a lot of tickets.” That corresponds with the middle of the day.
Congestion doesn’t fully explain the tiny number in the afternoon rush hour. He said the contractor, Xerox State and Local Solutions, sometimes changes shifts then, further depressing the total. (Unlike school zone cameras, those in work zones must have human operators present. Also, work zone cameras can run 24 hours a day, while those in school zones only run weekdays 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Tabacek says the automated cameras have helped continue a decade-long decline in work zone crashes and speeding. When the program began three years ago, 7 percent of passing cars and trucks got tickets, he said. “Now we’re below 1 percent.”
Critics have complained that it’s unfair to ticket drivers when job sites are idle. Sen. Jim Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, has sponsored legislation to limit enforcement to times when work crews are present. More than 435,000 of the $40 tickets have been issued from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
But Tabacek says the state always wants people slowing down in work zones. Also, he said, “four out of five injuries that take place in work zones are to the motorists themselves.”
Laurie Moser testified against Brochin’s bill. In 2007 her husband, state highway worker Richard W. Moser, was fatally struck by a truck while leading a maintenance team near Frederick. She wonders how many deaths the cameras have prevented and has no sympathy for speeders.
“The real point is there are people who are consistently breaking the law,” she said in an interview. “Whether they want to acknowledge it, they increase our risk every single day.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun