Speed Cam­eras Slow Driv­ers, New Re­port Says

The Washington Post - - Virginia | Maryland - By Dan Morse

A re­port to be re­leased to­day shows Mont­gomery County’s speed cam­eras are caus­ing driv­ers to slow down on roads where the cam­eras are lo­cated and sug­gests that driv­ers in oth­ers parts of the county are eas­ing off the gas for fear that cam­eras may be nearby.

The data, com­piled by the In­sur­ance In­sti­tute for High­way Safety, could boost ef­forts to place cam­eras else­where in Mary­land, an idea Gov. Martin O’Mal­ley (D) pro­posed re­cently.

“They are very strong find­ings,” said Anne McCartt, one of the re­searchers. “We hope that other ju­ris­dic­tions will read our study and con­sider us­ing this tech­nol­ogy.”

Speed cam­era sys­tems clock how fast ve­hi­cles are go­ing, snap pic­tures and send a ticket to the ve­hi­cle’s owner. Po­lice like them be­cause of­fi­cers can be de­ployed else­where. Crit­ics say they are un­fair be­cause mo­torists can­not ex­plain them­selves to of­fi­cers on the spot. They also say the cam­eras in­vade peo­ple’s pri­vacy.

The Mont­gomery study had its lim­its. It fo­cused on cam­eras op­er­ated by po­lice em­ploy­ees inside traf­fic safety mini­vans, rather than cam­eras mounted on poles, so driv­ers could have been tipped off by the vans. Still, the num­bers showed:

At lo­ca­tions that had warn­ing signs about the cam­eras and the ac­tual cam­eras, the pro­por­tion of driv­ers trav­el­ing at 10 mph over the speed limit fell by about 70 per­cent.

At lo­ca­tions with just the warn­ing signs, the pro­por­tion of speed­ing driv­ers fell by about 39 per­cent.

At other lo­ca­tions, with no signs and no cam­eras, the pro­por­tion fell by 15 per­cent.

Re­searchers ar­rived at the sta­tis­tics by mea­sur­ing speeds be­fore and af­ter cam­eras and signs were placed and com­par­ing those sites with sim­i­lar ar­eas in North­ern Vir­ginia that did not have cam­eras.

The num­bers are “telling me that au­to­mated en­force­ment works ex­tremely well,” said Bar­bara Har­sha, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Gov­er­nors High­way Safety As­so­ci­a­tion, a na­tion­wide group based in the Dis­trict.

Along north­bound Colesville Road near New Hamp­shire Av­enue, she said, she has watched cars bar­rel­ing down a hill at speeds top­ping 65 mph. “I’ve seen a kid skate­boarder there,” she said. “It’s just in­sane.”

Mont­gomery rolled out its speed cam­eras last year. They are used in res­i­den­tial and school ar­eas with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, po­lice of­fi­cials said. The county has six mo­bile cam­eras and 14 mounted cam­eras and aims to in­stall 16 more mounted cam­eras. Po­lice pro­vide the lo­ca­tions on the de­part­ment’s Web site.

Cit­ing the suc­cess of Mont­gomery’s pro­gram, O’Mal­ley an­nounced this month that he would in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to al­low lo­cal gov­ern­ments to use speed cam­eras. The cam­eras could be placed along high­way con­struc­tion ar­eas across the state, ac­cord­ing to O’Mal­ley’s leg­isla­tive agenda.

One ar­dent critic of speed cam­eras, Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Fred­er­ick), who has called the cam­eras a “back­door tax on the peo­ple of Mary­land,” said he wasn’t swayed by the study’s find­ings.

He said he wor­ries about gov­ern­ment in­creas­ing its watch on peo­ple, cit­ing the op­pres­sion his mother ex­pe­ri­enced in her na­tive Cuba.

“Why not just at­tach a cam­era to your per­son?” he asked. “Is that ul­ti­mately where the nanny state wants to go?”

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