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Speed Cameras in Howard County? Not So Fast, Say Opponents

Residents spoke about tragedy and children, but also about ideology at a hearing about legislation that would allow speed camera use in Howard County.

Use of two in school zones may just be a start, said  opponents at last night's public hearing on the issue.

“But the bill doesn’t say that there’s any limitation. We’ll have 20, then we’ll have 50, then we’ll have 100,” Ellicott City resident Joel Rosenberg testified. “Then they’ll be on my lawn, they’ll be over in the mall, they’re going to be in my bedroom. That’s the way it’s gonna go.”

The idea of speed cameras on the nightstand drew laughs, but also applause from the vocal minority of attendees who opposed legislation that would allow the use of mobile speed cameras in Howard County school and work zones.

Anticipating a long hearing, Council President Calvin Ball asked those in favor of the legislation to stand; about 40 rose, including a half-dozen uniformed police officers. When Ball asked those against the legislation to stand, about 17 people came to their feet.

Also testifying in favor of the legislation was a crossing guard and members of the Howard County Police Chief’s Citizens Advisory Council.

Howard County Police Chief William McMahon testified that he knew he wasn’t going to change the minds of everyone who opposed the legislation, but he said once all of the information was made available to the public, “This is going to be a difficult bill not to support.”

He followed up with statistics about the year-long study that police conducted in school zones, which showed 66 percent of drivers to be speeding, and a pledge that the department would conduct this new speed enforcement “on roadways that have relevance to school traffic.” Not, ostensibly, in people’s bedrooms.

But statistics and pledges from a department head took a back seat to emotional testimony in favor of the cameras.

Claire Meitl began to cry as soon as she started recounting the first day of Centennial High School softball season in 1991. Her Daughter, Jodi, and two friends drove to school that morning. 

Meitl received a call from the school shortly after her daughter left; there had been a car crash.

“When I arrived at the scene,” she said, “I saw a demolished car and a bloodstained passenger seat. I turned around as the Shock Trauma helicopter lifted off Centennial’s field. And then I fainted.”

Jodi’s friend Andrea Barlow was killed in the accident. Jodi sustained serious injuries, including a fractured skull, shattered nose and a fractured pelvis.

“She is not the child we had before the accident.”

Meitl said a truck loaded with construction materials struck the vehicle. The truck was going faster than 45 mph in a school zone, according to the citation the driver received.  He did not have to pay the fine, Meitl said, because no one showed up in court to prove that the flashing school zone lights were operational.

“My husband and I … strongly believe that [speed cameras] will be an effective deterrent to speeding, because,” she said, “as we know firsthand, flashing school lights are definitely not enough.”

Jodi Meitl’s father, John, read testimony that Jodi had submitted. She said she was not out partying or drinking, but that her friend misjudged the pace of a speeding vehicle.

“Today I turn 37,” the testimony read, “and I can tell you that these memories are as vivid today as they were 20 years ago. Now, though, my thoughts are more about protecting my daughter, who … depends on me to safely cross the very same street that has caused me nightmares.”

Ron Ely, founder of StopBigBrother.org spoke emotionally as well, insisting that speed camera programs have not been implemented as promised in neighboring jurisdictions. He noted several cases in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties where mistakes have led to tickets being issued unfairly, school zones have been expanded, and speed limits lowered.

“Revenue comes at the expense of the integrity of our justice systems,” he said

Other opponents of the program repeated such ideological arguments.

Julian Levy has three children who sometimes walk to school. But, he said, at the heart of the issue and his opposition to the legislation was that it is “counter to the American judicial heritage. You’re guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.”

The idea that a speed camera program was about raising revenue, not safety, was also repeated several times. To that end, a few speakers noted the low cost of the citations, $40.

“The amount is so small that people aren’t going to fight it and it’s going to help you guys raise revenue,” Chris Oxenham said.

“If you want to do something about public safety, get real.” He suggested increasing drunken and reckless driving fines and assigning community service to violators instead of a fine—no revenue, same speed enforcement.

The county executive's proposed FY12 budget includes about $1.23 million for the new program that incorporates salary for six related employees: a supervisor, an administrative support person and four technicians to staff two mobile vans.

McMahon said that it would take about 8 to 10 officers to run a similar program, citing the court costs of more people contesting the more expensive citations, training required and pulling officers from other duties.

A speed camera program, he said, would be “significantly cheaper, for lack of a better word, than sworn officers.”

The legislation would provide for vans equipped with speed cameras that would issue $40 citations for vehicles speeding 12 miles per hour or faster over the speed limit.  The citation would be reviewed by a certified technician, and then sent to a police officer for approval before being mailed to the car’s owner.

If the legislation passes, the police department would initially buy two vans equipped with speed cameras. The legislation as written does not specify a limit as to how many cameras the department could operate in the future.

Chief McMahon said the cameras would be used in school zones between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. , and the dates and locations that they would be used at would be available from the police ahead of time.

Two school board members—testifying as individuals—spoke on different sides of the issue, though both, as with most who testified, agreed that speeding was a problem in the county.

Frank Aquino testified in favor, saying he was “impressed but not surprised” at the police data showing how many drivers sped in school zones. But he noted that in work zones where he had seen speed cameras involved, over time, “brake lights became a common sight.”

Brian Meshkin added the county needed a “community-based solution.” He went on to say, “I have a problem with any elected official, as someone who is one now, proposing a solution, being able to check the box, suggesting that they’re actually solving a problem when they’re not.”

Meshkin cited methodology concerns about the police-conducted traffic study, which he had not read thoroughly, and offered peer-reviewed traffic analyses for the council to read.

Councilmember Courtney Watson (D, Ellicott City), suggested Meshkin meet with Chief McMahon. “I just think it’s a good practice to speak to our department heads.”

If there was one point on which nearly all speakers agreed, it was summed up by the testimony of Eric Hankleroad, an elementary school student from Savage who testified in his Boy Scout uniform.

After his testimony, he waved his hand back and forth, signaling speedy cars driving along Savage Gilford Road when he walks home from school.

During his testimony, he said he thought speed cameras would be a good idea.

“Many people drive fast while I’m walking home.”

Sean Colin April 22, 2011 at 01:18 AM
Explain to me how a bill in the mail two weeks after the alleged offense is stopping anyone from speeding? Wouldn't the use of rumble strips and speed bumps make more sense-at least the children would hear the car coming?
Sean Colin April 22, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Second, if they can find 1.23 million for the van and 6 employees, than why not hire officers to stand there and write tickets that mean something-it looks like the true motivation really comes down to $$$$$. Third, I do feel sorry for the loss of that families child, but a speed camera would not have prevented that from happening-it would have just sent a $40 bill to the driver a few weeks later. Speed cameras are nothing more than a sin tax-you can speed all you want, you just have to pay for it!
James C. Walker April 22, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Howard County already uses posted speed limits set below the safety-optimum 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic in order to make their red light cameras profitable by timing yellow lights to the falsely-low posted speed limit instead of the ACTUAL approach speeds of 85% of the free flowing traffic under good conditions. It would be very likely for speed cameras to have similarly abusive uses for revenue purposes. Citizens should NOT permit them. Remember that some 15 states ban or restrict ticket cameras to the level they are not used. Also some 15 cities have voted them out once the predatory nature of the cameras became obvious. Ticket cameras have NEVER survived a public vote and you can see the lists at www.thenewspaper.com Readers can research 85th percentile posted speed limits and the science of setting yellow intervals for maximum safety on our website. Regards, James C. Walker, National Motorists Association, www.motorists.org, Ann Arbor, MI (and a frequent visitor to Maryland to see family members)
Stephen April 22, 2011 at 04:26 PM
The fact is speed scamera do not pull over dangerous drivers, all they do is send bills. The scameras are NOT a safety device. As for the "stats" realize that there is no mention of how much of the "speeding" occured when there were kids there and when there was NO ONE WALKING AROUND. In places like Mesa AZ, they extended the school zone times to 6 IN THE EVENING to chrun more tickets (they also lowered the trigger speed). IN places like OH, one town would'nt even post the hours of the school zone. They just posted "restricted". (never mind the closed down school they continued to cite at in Baltimore). No mention as well of what the speeds were. If most were 1 to 3 mph hours is theat really a "safety" issue or just being nit picky. ( A bigger threat to safety is getting drivers to SPEEDMETER WATCH inside instead of paying attention outside). Also no mention if the "speeding" was just drivers slowing down entering the zones or speeding up leaving the zones. Fight the SCAM! Ban the CAMS! www.motorists.org www.banthecams.org www.camerafraud.com www.bhspi.org
Frank in Elkridge April 22, 2011 at 06:55 PM
I really hope the speed cameras are placed in any school zone that my children will be going through. The fines will only be collected from law-breakers going far above the posted speed limit. I fail to see how fining lawbreakers who are speeding in front of a school is just some sort of big-brother, money-grubbing conspiracy. If there are concerns about the placement or hours of operation, or the amount of the fines, or privacy issues, or accuracy problems, or adequate signage, or the how the revenue is used then let's address those problems specifically rather than just condemn cameras outright. If speed bumps, radar signs, and increased police presence are practical solutions then they should be used also, in addition to speed cameras. My only problem with the proposed law is that the fine is too small. It should be $100 or more if no points are assessed on the driving record.
Photoradarscam April 22, 2011 at 08:24 PM
And so the scam begins. Very few accidents would be prevented by someone going just a few mph slower. According to the NHTSA, Exceeding the posted limit causes very few crashes. The advocates play on emotions based on a theory that this will be effective, when there are no studies showing that they will reduce accidents at all. And speaking of data, how many crashes in school zones have there been in the past few years? Is this really a big enough problem to warrant this? Cars, speeding, and school zones are NOT NEW. So why now? Because they want to MAKE MONEY.
Copper May 28, 2011 at 11:07 PM
Guess we're looking at two different NHTSA's.... "Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. In 2008, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and 11,674 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes.Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway [like kids in a school zone!], extends the distance necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases he distance a vehicle travels while the driver reacts to a dangerous situation."
Adam R June 02, 2011 at 01:40 AM
Here is another use of the cameras by BALTO County: At road construction sites they will use a speed measuring post to let you know what speed your driving at, then they will have the big 4 door white SUV ready to flash pics and send out the $40 tickets. Right now if you drive 295 N to the city just past Rt 195 exit you will see this process. What is totally messed up is that the drivers see the sign first and brake down to 40mph and then traffic congestion and near miss collisions are happening(because this is also at an exit-Nursery Road), and then people get moving again, and whammy the SUV taking photos. Now personally I am for slowing drivers down at construction sites, which are where many people are killed or injured every year in our Country. I just think this SUV method is making it worse. I bring this up because I know if they do something to our North in Baltimore County, you can be sure Howard County will be doing the same.

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