Baltimore County, Say Cheese

Our View: School Is Reopening, So Let's Protect The Students With Speed Cameras

August 31, 2009

There are plenty of reasons why the Baltimore County Council should approve speed cameras tomorrow - at least 104,155 reasons, to be precise, as that's the expected enrollment in public schools. Under the state law that passed earlier this year, the county has the authority to use unmanned cameras to enforce speed limits around schools, and there's little doubt of their necessity.

That county residents are prone to speeding around schools is not in dispute. Officials need only point to the 1,794 speed tickets issued within one-half mile of a public or private school from 2005-2007, the last period for which such an analysis is available.

County residents seem to feel the need for speed more keenly than most. Drag racing on I-270 in Woodlawn is only the most recent evidence. County police are more likely to issue a speeding ticket than any other traffic violation. There's simply no shortage of offenders.

Under the proposal pending before the council, an expected 12-15 cameras would be in operation between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. People would have to be caught on film going at least 12 mph above the speed limit to be considered in violation of the law. The ticket would cause no points to be added to the driver's license and carry only a $40 fine.

Critics have seized on the proposal as some sort of Big Brother assault on personal liberties and a money-grab by government. Yet when did a person's interest in driving double-digits faster than the speed limit posted in front of an elementary school trump reasonable concerns over the safety of youngsters?

As for the revenue, county taxpayers can only hope the speed cameras prove lucrative. Last week's state budget cuts are expected to shortchange the county by about $23 million in local aid, including $3.4 million from the police department.

Under those circumstances, it would seem to be a good time to spare police an enforcement chore that camera equipped with a radar can accomplish far more efficiently. As Jim Johnson, the county's police chief, has pointed out, the cameras are a "force multiplier."

The link between speeding and traffic deaths is too well established to take lightly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates it to be a factor in at least one-third of all fatal crashes. And studies have shown that countries where automated speed cameras are in use, such as Australia and Canada, have experienced a reduction in such traffic deaths.

People who don't care to pay the fine have an easy out: Don't speed. That not only saves them money, but it saves childrens'

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