Legislative reforms are desperately needed to address issues with Maryland's speed camera programs in school zones, particularly in Baltimore City, where the problems have been so pervasive and so well-documented that the system has been suspended since April.
We know that speed camera citations have been issued to deceased motorists and "signed" and authorized by a deceased police officer. Motorists have been cited for speeding in school zones when they were not moving at all — including a AAA Mid-Atlantic roadside assistance truck, which was cited for going 57 miles per hour in a school zone, despite being stopped at a red light. Others have been cited in a "school zone" where there was not even a school. And last week, The Sun revealed that a secret audit found city speed cameras had much higher error rates than previously thought. Based on The Sun's report, the City Council plans to launch an investigation next week into the audit.
The audit, which the city refused to make public, was leaked to The Sun and showed that the error rates of Baltimore's speed camera program were 40 times higher than initially and consistently reported by city officials over the last year. This is beyond disturbing.
As a member of the Mayor's Task Force on Automated Enforcement, I served with others for nearly a year. Like the general public, we were consistently told that the errors with Baltimore's speed camera program were minimal and isolated. This is obviously not the case, and the fact that the city chose to conceal this information from its own task force, elected officials and the general public is why the city's program will always have a credibility issue.
While we recognize there may have been legal reasons preventing city officials from releasing the audit, the speed camera program impacts thousands of motorists, and therefore, the public and their elected representatives have every right to be informed of the audit's findings. It is indeed difficult to comprehend how such a public issue that impacts so many and is allegedly about public and traffic safety would be shielded from public view.
While there are some who will use this latest fiasco to call for a repeal of automated speed enforcement altogether, AAA Mid-Atlantic does not share that view. We continue to believe that when utilized properly, automated speed enforcement can be a valuable tool that saves lives and changes driving behaviors. We have seen success with the State Highway Administration's (SHA) use of speed cameras in work zones. SHA's signage is clearly visible and gives motorists ample notice that cameras may be present. Data show that since the implementation of its program in Maryland's highway work zones, the number of citations issued has dropped by more than 80 percent, suggesting that motorists are changing their behavior and slowing down, resulting in safer conditions for all.
AAA Mid-Atlantic remains committed to the safety of motorists, highway workers and school children and is calling on the legislature to pass significant reforms this year to fix well-demonstrated flaws in many speed camera programs operated in our state. These reforms are necessary to restore the public's trust.
AAA's recommendations include:
•Establishing oversight — currently there is no entity or agency that can hold jurisdictions accountable when they violate the provisions of the law;
Clarifying the funding structure so that vendors are not paid on a per ticket basis;
Clarifying the definition of a school zone;
Implementing a standard for tickets, as none exists for what information must be contained on a ticket;
Mandating requirements so that motorists can have proof of the alleged speed, especially given the known fallibility of the equipment;
And requiring annual operational audits of all jurisdictions with speed and red light camera programs.
We are hopeful that this year the legislature will close the loopholes that leave motorists vulnerable to erroneous citations and with limited legal recourse to defend themselves. Strengthening the law will hold accountable those jurisdictions that operate in a less than credible manner. Unfortunately, we have seen the lack of credibility once again with Baltimore's latest speed camera nightmare. Officials' efforts to withhold information from the public about the enormity of the errors with Baltimore's speed camera program highlight the need for reforms.
Ragina Cooper-Averella is the public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic. She also served on the Mayor's Task Force on Automated Enforcement and is a former police officer and director of public affairs for the Baltimore Police Department. Ms. Cooper-Averella may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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