Almost two full years after Laurel Police implemented their speed enforcement program by placing speed cameras in six city school zones, the average daily number of speeding instances has decreased drastically, leading police to categorize the program a major success.
"Speed cameras change the drivers' habits in the areas they are enforcing," Laurel Police community policing and traffic unit supervisor Sgt. John Hamilton said. "The automated speed enforcement program has been very effective in changing the driving habits of drivers in the city of Laurel."
Hamilton said the automated speed enforcement program, which started collecting citations on Jan. 1, 2011, began after Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin requested the department explore a long-term solution to speeding in city school zones.
"The chief wanted to do something that implemented more of a behavioral change, instead of having roving officers with radar," Hamilton said.
According to statistics provided by the city's speed camera provider, the Brekford Corp., the average daily number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit by 12 miles per hour in five of the six school zones during July and August of this year was a fraction of what it was during the company's field study, which was conducted in 2010.
According to the data, the number of average daily speeders decreased from 7,028 during the field study to 250, marking a 97 percent decrease.
Although the average number of daily speeders has steadily decreased in each zone over the past 20 months, the largest dip across the board came between the conclusion of the field study and the end of the first reporting period on June 30, 2011.
McLaughlin believes this is due to the warnings issued to violators during the 30-day warning period leading up to the cameras activation.
"With sending out the warnings and the publicity of the cameras, it helped deter people before the cameras went active," McLaughlin said.
The sixth speed camera, located on Old Sandy Spring Road, was not included in the 2010 field study.
In addition to the reductions in speeding, the number of fatal accidents involving pedestrians citywide has also decreased, Hamilton said.
According to Hamilton, in 2008-2010, there were six fatal pedestrian accidents involving motor vehicles in Laurel. Since the implementation of the program in 2011, there has only been one.
Hamilton added that the number of traffic crashes in the areas surrounding the speed cameras has also reduced.
Creating a safer environment
While the programs differ in scope and governance, the State Highway Administration's Maryland Safe Zones Program, which places speed camera vans in work zones, has reported similar levels of success since it launched in 2010, according to SHA spokesperson Lora Rakowski.
Rakowski said although the state program and programs implemented by local police departments operate independently of each other, when implemented correctly, a speed camera program creates a safer environment.
"When the program is safely and effectively implemented, it will contribute to safer driving conditions, crash reductions and reductions in speeding," Rakowski said.
Rakowski said when coupled with other law enforcement activities, the use of speed cameras are a "very effective tool" to increasing public safety.
Although the programs are independent of one another, Rakowski said the SHA does work in collaboration with local police departments who are interested in implementing speed camera programs in school zones.
One of the ways the SHA helps local departments is by distributing a 56-page guideline document detailing recommendations on the implementation, enforcement and education of a speed camera program.
Backlash from community
Although both programs have experienced success, it hasn't come without some backlash from community members.
Rakowski said the SHA has reported incidents of vans being vandalized and received some letters of complaint expressing discontent.
"I've seen public response come in both ways," Rakowski said. "But I'm not sure if anyone can argue about lives being saved, and that's what this program is about."
Hamilton said the Brekford Corp. handles complaints for the city of Laurel and that most of the complaints are regarding late payment fees.
Laurel resident Ivin Lee said he doesn't necessarily mind the speed cameras, but is more upset about what he perceives to be a lack of warning when you enter a school zone.
"If you want to save the kids and stop speeding, put up a blinking light to let people know that a camera is up ahead," Lee said. "If it's about the kids, then put a sign up to let people know, so they will slow down. It's just annoying more than anything."
McLaughlin said the city is exploring placing electronic signs in the school zones that display to drivers their current speed before they pass through the speed camera zone. McLaughlin added that, if they were to be implemented, the city has the option of placing additional cameras on these signs.
Lee, who said he's been caught by different speed cameras a few times, added that he believes it's less about the kids and more about the revenue.
"In this economy, the people who can least afford to get the tickets are getting them. Who can afford to throw money away?" Lee said. "Nobody is against the safety for the kids; I just don't think it is about that. I think it is all about the money."
According to Hamilton, the revenue collected from the speed cameras, which is a flat $40 per citation, is used toward public safety initiatives, as mandated by state law.
McLaughlin said Laurel's speed camera revenue has been used to repair sidewalks, repave roads and install or replace electronic crossing signals at city crosswalks.
McLaughlin emphasized that the program is not about revenue and all about pedestrian safety.
"I don't want the perception that it's all about the money," McLaughlin said. "This is not money-driven; it's all about the safety of traffic and pedestrians in school zones."