Speed Camera in Maryland to Go to Court of Appeals

The Maryland Court of Appeals will jump into the battles of whether it is reasonable to allow speed and red light camera merchants to receive a “commission” every time the camera catches a violator. A group of Prince George’s, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick county residents say the payments, made by Montgomery County, Gaithersburg, and Rockville, are illegal.

This is the latest in a long, long battle between libertarians and their brethren and the photo enforcement technology industry, that operates speed cameras and red light cameras for local municipalities. The two most common photo enforcement systems are red light cameras, designed to detect motorists who enter an intersection after the light has turned red, and speed cameras, designed to detect motorists going a certain amount over the posted speed limit. In many cases, these two systems are combined at one intersection.

The big cheese in this industry is ACS State and Local Solutions (“ACS”) which provides 80 percent of the red-light cameras operating in the United States. (Interesting fact: ACS is owned by Zerox.) One thing is for sure: the speed camera business is big bucks. ACS Inc., the big red light speed camera vendor in Maryland, gets $16.25 for every $40 speed camera fine. This is a contingency fee that makes every car accident lawyer jealous. In some jurisdictions in Maryland, like Baltimore County, ACS’s percentage of the take is thought to be even higher.

All of this debate over how red light and speed cameras should be set up is above my pay grade. But I do know that we need to have new means of controlling speeders and people who don’t feel compelled to comply with traffic laws, because enforcement of our traffic laws in Maryland are become increasingly difficult to manage with old school conventional means alone. We have to figure out the fairest way possible to do this, and maybe giving companies a percentage of the take is the wrong play. But, we have to do something because these things save lives.

Some speed/red light camera fact/statistics:

  • Red light running causes about 800 crash deaths per year.
  • From 1992 to 2000, the number of fatal car, truck, motorcycle and pedestrian crashes at intersections with signals jumped 19 percent.
  • A $40 ticket every blue moon that you did not deserve is not a big price to pay to save lives (oops, that is not a fact).
  • In addition, the economic costs of crashes that involved speeding were $ 40.4 billion (this is 2004 data, it is probably a lot higher now).
  • At intersections using photo enforcement technology, overall right-angle crashes decreased 25 percent and injury right angle crashes decreased 16 percent. Front-into-side collisions also were reduced by 32 percent overall, and front-into-side crashes involving injuries were reduced by 68 percent.
  • Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson believes there has been a 50 percent decline in all speed camera citations (note: this assertion has been questioned).

Actually, all of these traffic speed camera statistics have been questioned. I appreciate the debate. I don’t take every statistic I read at face value either. Here is what I know believe: speed cameras definitely do not hurt, and they probably do help save lives. They are worth the trouble.

Not for nothing, this comes from someone who makes a living from helping people who are injured in car accidents. I believe speed and red light cameras cause me to lose business, to lose profits. But, this is a good thing for people who love their families and want to keep them safe.

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