When the legislature approved the statewide use of speed cameras last year, critics of the plan were loud and shrill. They viewed them as merely a way to milk the motoring public for revenue from fines and doubted the cameras would make the roads much safer.
But while it's still relatively early yet, the results show that cameras are working pretty much as traffic safety experts had anticipated. Work zone cameras deployed last fall are not making money for the state, but they are slowing down traffic.
That the cameras are a net money loser for the State Highway Administration (at least so far) will no doubt cause spasms of new complaints over wasteful spending, but naysayers can't have it both ways. In their first six months of use, the cameras have netted $516,000 in citations but cost slightly more than $1 million to deploy.
Ticket revenue was all the more modest because the SHA began by issuing warnings instead of $40 fines, and posted large signs cautioning drivers that they are entering a photo enforcement zone. And again, that was entirely appropriate if the point was to change behavior — to slow motorists and make highway construction zones safer — rather than to make money.
Even so, the camera located on the Baltimore Beltway at Charles Street, where the SHA is replacing a 55-year-old bridge, has been kept plenty busy. As of the end of March, 11,660 motorists have been ticketed for exceeding the 50 mph speed limit by 12 mph or more.
Last week, SHA Administrator Neil J. Pedersen noted that state workers and contractors have observed fewer speeders and fewer accidents at that and other locations. That's good news because during the past decade, there has been an average 12 people killed in Maryland work zone accidents each year. And it's not just an issue for construction workers; most of those killed or injured in work zone accidents are drivers and passengers.
Statistics provided to The Sun back the administrator up. At the speed camera site on Interstate 95 just north of the Baltimore Beltway, a recent review of data from before and after drivers started getting slapped with fines shows far fewer cars driving above the 55 mph limit. Not only did the SHA find 6 percent to 8 percent fewer drivers traveling at speeds of 66-75 mph after speed cameras became active, but nearly 20 percent fewer motorists were spotted driving 56-65 mph, which would not have caused them to be ticketed anyway.
Motorists can grouse all they want about the proliferation of automated cameras. Certainly, it's too early to judge the impact on local streets, where they've been allowed as a means to enforce speed limits in school zones as well.
But the evidence so far strongly suggests that lives will be saved. Drivers who don't wish to pay the $40 fine need only refrain from going 12 mph above the speed limit. That's a good policy whether there's a camera nearby or not.