Lawmaker pitches $1,000 penalty for 'bogus' speed camera tickets

Del. Cardin also wants audits and a way to verify alleged speeds

  • State Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, speaks during a news conference in Baltimore to announce proposed changes to Maryland's speed camera law.
State Del. Jon Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat, speaks… (Baltimore Sun photo by Amy…)
December 10, 2012|By Scott Calvert, The Baltimore Sun

Speed camera companies and local governments would be penalized $1,000 for each "bogus" citation issued to motorists under proposed legislation announced Monday by state Del. Jon Cardin.

The Baltimore County Democrat also wants to require governments in Maryland to submit regular speed camera audits to the General Assembly. And he wants to help ensure the accuracy of tickets by mandating precise time stamps on the two photos mailed to drivers as evidence of their speeding.

His proposal comes after The Baltimore Sun found inaccuracies with five of the city's 83 automated speed cameras and showed that there's no way to verify the alleged speeds printed on tickets issued by Baltimore County, Howard County and the State Highway Administration.

"Over the last few weeks, the speed camera issue has really shaken all our confidence in what our government is here to do," Cardin told reporters at a news conference in downtown Baltimore. "Is government here to raise revenue, or is government here to keep our residents safe?"

He called it "a terrible breach in the public trust" for people to be ticketed erroneously, saying his constituents have voiced concerns. "I hear anger."

With a new General Assembly session a month away, Cardin is the latest legislator to call for changes to the state law detailing how dozens of cities and counties in Maryland operate their speed camera programs. The law passed in 2009 with strong backing from Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"Clearly there have been some flaws exposed in programs administered by the locals," said O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "Of course we would take a look at any legislation to bring some consistency and fairness."

Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat, plans to sponsor a "correctional" bill to address several shortcomings he sees in the law. One would limit the operation of school zone cameras to school hours, rather than the current range of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. year-round on weekdays.

Brochin, an opponent of speed cameras, also wants to strengthen a provision that some lawmakers say already forbids governments from paying contractors a fee based on the number of tickets. Such so-called "bounty" systems are in effect in the city, Baltimore County and elsewhere.

"Short of repeal, which I have tried and not been able to accomplish, we've got to get it right and say it's not about the money," Brochin said last week.

Del. James E. Malone Jr., who chairs the Motor Vehicles & Transportation subcommittee of the House Environmental Matters Committee, said his panel will look to overhaul the entire law. The Baltimore County Democrat said several jurisdictions have misinterpreted the law in several areas.

In a report released last month, legislative auditors criticized the State Highway Administration, saying the state began using speed cameras without conducting sufficient tests to ensure their accuracy. The report said the state used the mobile cameras for nine months without having them independently calibrated to ensure they were working properly.

Asked about Cardin's ideas, city Department of Transportation spokeswoman Adrienne Barnes said, "We appreciate that Delegate Cardin shares our goal of eliminating speed camera errors." She invited him and any other legislator to observe the work of a task force created by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to review the city's automated traffic enforcement program.

The task force is scheduled to hold its next meeting at 10:30 a.m. Friday in the Charles L. Benton Jr. Building downtown.

Barnes did not address any of Cardin's specific recommendations. A Rawlings-Blake spokesman said the city will review any legislation that is submitted to the General Assembly.

The city, which has taken in about $40 million in speed camera fines since 2009, says the cameras have improved safety and reduced speeding. It says it is committed to preventing errors. The city has acknowledged voiding 6,000 citations, which it notes is a small fraction of the 1.6 million tickets issued.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said he was open to ideas from state lawmakers to "strengthen" the public's trust in his county's speed camera program, a view echoed by state highway officials. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz declined to comment, his spokeswoman said.

Chris Gilligan, a spokesman for Xerox State and Local Solutions Inc., said, "We look forward to seeing the proposal when it is written and working with Delegate Cardin to help keep roads safe by helping reduce the number of speeders on Maryland roadways."

The company, a unit of technology giant Xerox Corp., is the speed camera contractor in the city, Baltimore County, Howard County and state highway work zones. Next month, the city is switching to a new contractor, Brekford Corp. of Anne Arundel County.

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