Howard County motorists who frequently drive by schools on Ilchester Road, Centennial Lane, Triadelphia Road, Great Star Drive or other school zones where police say speeding is a problem, will likely encounter a speed camera in the next month.
The police department plans to launch its automated speed enforcement program Monday, Oct. 17 and start by targeting areas where speeding in school zones has been most problematic. After a 30-day warning period, drivers caught traveling 12 mph or more over the speed limit will be issued citations, each bearing a $40 fine.
Use of speed cameras was authorized by a state law passed in 2009 and a subsequent county law passed by the County Council in May. According to the law, the cameras can only be operated in school zones on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The law requires revenue collected, after offsetting the costs of the program, go toward public safety initiatives.
Because the program will start with only two mobile speed cameras, it could be a while before the cameras make their way to the 100 some school zones throughout the county, police chief Bill McMahon said. The speed cameras, mounted on non-descript vans, will be in up to two school zones per day, he said, meaning the maximum locations the speed cameras will cover each week is 20.
However, McMahon noted, having a sustained presence has been key in changing behavior in problematic areas. Thus, it's likely the speed cameras will be placed in problematic areas more than once every few weeks.
The goal of the program remains the same — McMahon said police want to create the impression that the cameras can be in any school zone during the allotted hours so people never speed. To that effect, the police department's website, where camera locations will be updated each Thursday for the following week, will not specify what days and times the cameras will be in the listed locations.
"It will list a number of roadways we could be at that particular week," McMahon explained.
School zones will be marked with signs that read "photo enforced."
The program will be run by six police employees, headed by Frederick von Briesen, a retired officer who will serve as the speed camera administrator. The speed camera equipment and back-office staff will be provided by ACS Inc., a Xerox company based in Dallas that provides business process and information technology services.
The police department will start with two cameras, though he county law allows the department to deploy up to eight mobile cameras. McMahon said a timeframe for considering adding more cameras has not been set.
"If two is sufficient, that's where we'll stop," he said. "If we feel there is a compelling reason to do more, then that's what we'll do."
Council to monitor program
Before speed cameras, McMahon said, the primary tool police used to stop speeders is traditional enforcement, with officers running radar, pulling violators over and issuing citations.
"And that won't go away," he said. "But it is not having the impact that we need to slow people down."
One of the problems is that police do not have enough staff to have people regularly assigned to do enforcement in school zones.
Other than the first two weeks of school when police operate the HASTE (Helping Arriving Students Through Enforcement) program, police do not conduct regular enforcement. Community beat officers, McMahon explained, have to find time in their schedules to conduct enforcement in school zones.
"The whole purpose of this (speed camera) program is to ensure that kids can get to and from school — whether they're walking or driving or biking — safely," McMahon said.
Councilwoman Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat who said speeding is the No. 1 issue her constituents are concerned about, agreed.
"It was the goal of the council to make the areas immediately around schools safer for pedestrians and for children," she said. "We will be evaluating the program after six months to determine whether it's accomplishing the goals of increasing safety in our school zones."
Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican and the only of the five council members to vote against speed cameras, also said he will be closely monitoring the program.
"I'll definitely be keeping a close eye on how the program progresses and how it's utilized," he said.