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 says the payments, made by Montgomery County, Gaithersburg, and Rockville, are illegal. [2018 update: the court found it reasonable.]
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. There is no question that people die in Maryland because people run red lights and drive too fast. The purpose is to discourage this activity. Are companies and the government profiting off this effort? Of course they are.
One stunning example of this is the case of the former CEO of Redflex. This company is one of the leading providers of traffic cameras in the country. She pled guilty to bribery in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Chicago. She apparently posted a help-wanted ad for a bagman in Chicago. This is the kind of stuff that drives libertarians, and most of us, crazy.
Speed Cameras in Maryland
Photo enforcement technology, known more familiarly as “speed cameras” or “red light cameras,” is a system used to detect and identify vehicles disobeying a speed limit or other road legal requirements. The two most common photo enforcement systems in Maryland 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.
Who is Making Money Off This?
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 Xerox.) 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.
Statistics on Speed and Red Light Cameras
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.
Speed Camera in Maryland Law in 2018
Maryland law states that jurisdictions may only place speed cameras within a half-mile of a school. Under state law, the $40 speed camera citations can be issued only when a vehicle exceeds the speed limit by at least 12 mph.
Speed and red light cameras have been extremely controversial. Baltimore took a four-year break from speed camera after accuracy concerns were made. But they are back up and running again.