Automated speed enforcement devices — a fancy way to say speed cameras — are almost universally despised by motorists. There are few things as frustrating as opening up your mail and finding a photograph of your vehicle along with message that you have to pay a $40 fine for speeding, all caught on camera.
But they aren’t going away anytime soon. Why? Because speed cameras are effective at getting people to slow down, reducing crashes and saving lives.
In recent years, Maryland’s work zone camera ticket revenues have dropped 44.5 percent, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic, indicating that motorists seem to be getting the message and adjusting their driving behaviors accordingly.
Maryland State Police and the State Highway Administration implemented the SafeZones program fully in 2010 with a goal to reduce the speed of drivers in work zones, making them safer for workers, drivers and passengers. Signage is used to let drivers know the speed limit, how fast they are going, and warning that they are approaching an automated speed enforcement area.
The cameras operate constantly, even when workers are not present, because “work zones can be dangerous due to uneven pavement, lane shifts, reduced shoulders and other modifications,” according to the Maryland Department of Transportation.
When the program began, seven out of every 100 drivers were exceeding the posted speed limit by 12 mph or more, the threshold for receiving a citation. A 2017 fact sheet about the SafeZones program indicates the number of speeding vehicles in work zones has been reduced by about 90 percent since it began.
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Most importantly, since the implementation of the program, work zone fatalties have been reduced to an average of 6.6 per year in Maryland from 2010 to 2016, according to a report from the Department of Legislative Services. That’s down about 45 percent from an average of 11.9 deaths each year from 2003 to 2009 before the speed camera program was put in place.
Make no mistake, speed cameras are also significant revenue generators. From fiscal year 2013 to FY16, work zone speed cameras tagged more than 1.3 million for speeding, bringing in approximately $54 million in revenue to the state through fines. Over that time period, however, revenue has dropped by $7.3 million from a high of $16.4 million in FY13 to $9.1 million in FY16, with incremental decreases every year.
Decreasing revenues, fewer speeding vehicles and fewer fatalities are all signs the work zone speed enforcement program is an effective one at deterring speeding and ultimately saving lives.
While having police do speed enforcement is still the most effective way to alter driver behaviors, using cameras not only allows law enforcement to focus on more pressing duties, but also offer a consistent, 24/7 presence to reduce speeding.
Many Carroll agencies — and residents — have been wary to rely on automated cameras to enforce traffic laws. The Westminster Police Department had several red light cameras installed at dangerous intersections in the city back in 2010 and, while police did find it effective, the agency has reduced its red light camera program to just one camera — at the intersection of Malcolm Road and Nursery Drive. It remains the only camera enforcement tool in the county. Agencies also have speed trailers, which they will often use in residential neighborhoods to alert drivers to their speed, which tend to work.
However, after every serious or fatal crash in the county, we often hear calls for more of a police presence for traffic enforcement on roads where accidents frequently occur.
Given the effectiveness of the state’s SafeZones program, we wonder if local law enforcement shouldn’t at least consider implementing speed cameras in some of these problem areas. There would undoubtedly be pushback, but if the end result is making Carroll’s roads safer, it may seem worth it.