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Citations from speed camera around Baltimore County show signs of decline

A car passes by a speed camera set up along Old Frederick Road near Westchester Elementary School in Catonsville, MD on Thursday, August 18, 2016.
A car passes by a speed camera set up along Old Frederick Road near Westchester Elementary School in Catonsville, MD on Thursday, August 18, 2016. (Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The number of tickets issued by the county's speed-camera program is on pace to decline for a second year.

Through mid-August, 109,473 violation notices, including 13,721 warnings, had been sent by Baltimore County Police this year, according to Cpl. John Wachter, a police spokesman.

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For all of last year, 180,529 violation notices were issued, including 678 warnings.

Fewer warnings in 2015 are attributed to a lower number of cameras — three — being installed that year, Wachter said, adding the police department announces when new fixtures are installed and warnings are initially issued.

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If you are caught by a speed camera in Baltimore County within the first 30 days after it is activated you will get a warning instead of the citation and the $40 fine.

While the speed cameras along roads near Baltimore County schools run year-round, the first day of school serves as a reminder to some motorists that they're in place.

Speed camera fixtures are installed, or in the process of being installed, near 24 elementary schools, 14 middle schools, 13 high schools and five private schools.

In southwest Baltimore County, they can be found near Johnnycake and Westchester elementary schools, Arbutus and Lansdowne middle schools, Southwest Academy and Catonsville, Lansdowne and Woodlawn high schools.

There are 36 cameras that rotate among the 56 spots in Baltimore County, and they operate from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, Wachter said.

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Camera programs – including ones that snap red-light violators – and been both praised and scorned across the country.

"The whole idea of the sanction is to change people's behavior and get people to slow down," Wachter said. "If we put a camera up and it slowed people down and we never got a penny out of it, the camera did its job."

A study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, examining Montgomery County's 9-year-old camera program, shows that cameras have reduced the likelihood of a motorist driving more than 10 mph above a posted speed limit by 59 percent between 2007 and 2014.

Montgomery's camera program also reduced the chance of a crash involving a fatality or serious injury by 19 percent, according to researchers.

In Baltimore County, citations are sent to registered owners of vehicles that travel 12 mph above the posted speed limit. In the first 30 days after a new speed camera is activated, warnings are sent instead of citations.

The county started using speed cameras in 2009, limiting them to school zones.

An advantage of having the cameras in place is that it frees officers to handle calls, patrol and prevent other crimes, Wachter said.

Baltimore County police will become the latest in Maryland to wear body cameras, with the first devices to be used next week.

Speed camera violations carry a $40 fine. No license points are assigned because they are civil violations. Auto insurance providers are not notified of speed camera citations.

Revenue from the county's speed camera fines must be used for public safety programs, according to Maryland law, and a portion of this year's collections will be used to buy body cameras for officers.

Ragina Cooper Averella, public and government affairs manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said the automotive association supports the use of automated enforcement, when used properly.

If citations are going down, she said that's not a bad thing — hoping that it is sign motorists are changing their driving behaviors.

"We recognize police can't be everywhere at once," she said. "Their resources are stretched thin."

The National Motorists Association, a grassroots alliance started in 1982, opposes the cameras.

Sheila Dunn, communications director for the group, said citations from a camera opens up the possibility of car owners receiving a ticket when someone else was driving their car. Motorists may not get the citation from a speed camera until weeks or months later, as opposed to a police officer giving a ticket and telling a driver the reason for the citation.

"There's no due process, really," she said.

If speed limits are placed correctly near a school zone then the law should be followed, Dunn said. In addition to better street safety education for children and motorists, she suggests that cities and school systems that want to have safer areas around schools should have a stronger police presence.

"That's the best deterrent," she said.

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