Citywide accident rates rise during era of speed cameras

Baltimore experienced a nearly 5 percent increase in traffic accidents from 2009 to 2012 — a four-year span during which the city rolled out and ramped up its network of now-idle speed cameras, according to state police.

Accidents rose from 19,792 in 2009 to 20,718 in 2012, the city's highest total in nine years. Over those four years the city issued more than 1.5 million of the $40 tickets, with a stated purpose of improving safety by getting drivers to slow down in areas around schools.

City transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes played down the increase. She noted that crashes fell from 2009 to 2010 (by almost 4 percent), before rising. Speed camera enforcement began in November 2009, making 2010 the first full year with cameras. Barnes also said yearly city figures have not fluctuated much over the past 10 years.

Barnes also pointed to an analysis last December of six intersections with speed cameras and high accident rates. From 2009 to 2011, the number of accidents fell at each intersection, with decreases ranging from 3 percent to 42 percent. Barnes did not provide last year's figures.

Through the first half of this year, figures showed the city was on pace to exceed last year's crash total. But if current trends hold, far fewer of those accidents will have proved fatal. And though the number of deadly wrecks in the city rose from 22 in 2011 to 27 last year, that is below levels in 2009 and 2010, when the number of fatal crashes reached into the high 30s.

The overall trend is different in several Maryland counties with large speed camera programs. Baltimore County's crash totals have dropped by more than 6 percent since 2009. The declines have been steeper in Montgomery (14 percent) and Prince George's (12 percent).

The city stopped issuing speed and red-light camera tickets in April because of problems including a wrongly programmed camera. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said recently that the camera program, run by Anne Arundel County-based Brekford Inc., is still not ready to be brought back online.

While Baltimore's citywide accident increase is "discouraging," it's important to look at crash stats in areas with cameras, said Roy E. Lucke, director of highway and transportation safety programs at Northwestern University.

Lucke said puzzling out the reasons for citywide accident figures can be tricky, particularly because broader forces can have an effect. For example, he said, accidents rose last year nationwide, and one theory is that the improving economy simply meant more cars on the road.

Scott Calvert

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