Howard County will deploy two van-mounted mobile speed cameras at the start of the next school year if the County Council signs off on the proposal, County Executive Ken Ulman said Tuesday, though his plan would allow the county to later install as many cameras as police deem necessary.
Standing before Ilchester Elementary School in Ellicott City, one of four schools on a narrow, no-shoulder country road without sidewalks, Ulman said he would propose legislation next month to allow the cameras. He said he waited to decide on speed cameras "because I wanted to make sure the chief of police could show me the data to convince me that this bill will keep our children safe, and that's exactly what it will do."
If accepted by the County Council, Howard would join Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties, along with the cities of Baltimore and Laurel, in using the cameras near schools. Maryland state government is using them to slow drivers near five highway work zones. Sykesville town officials initially approved the cameras, too, but voters in the small town on the Howard-Carroll County border defeated the plan.
Ulman pledged that "every single dollar generated will go back into traffic safety," which could include crosswalks and sidewalks. He and police Chief William J. McMahon said the county would own and operate the speed camera equipment and police officers would sign the tickets to reassure the public that the program is doing what it is supposed to do, not just raising revenue.
McMahon said a 48-hour weekday speed survey of 100 public and private schools in the county found that two-thirds of motorists were exceeding the posted speed limits. And 18 percent were traveling more than 12 miles over the limit — the threshold for issuing a $40 speed camera ticket under a state enabling law approved in 2009. The tickets add no points to a driver's record and the cameras are limited to within a half-mile of a school or work zone.
Edward Chaney, 47, who has lived across the road from Ilchester Elementary for the past decade and attended the news event, said new homes and growing commuter use have doubled traffic on Ilchester Road in the last five years. He has sometimes stepped into the road to force speeding drivers to stop, he said. "Something has to be done. Are we supposed to wait until a child is hit?"
But Pat Dornan, a critic of tax increases and government spending who did not attend, said passage of a speed camera law might spark him to start a referendum campaign to place the issue on the 2012 ballot. He said the cameras may prompt rear-end collisions when drivers suddenly brake, and he believes them to be "un-American."
"They issue citations without due process of law," he said.