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Why the Turnaround on Speed Cameras?

Anne Bartlett

Oh what a difference a day can make in the Maryland General Assembly.

On Wednesday night, a bill to authorize the use of cameras to catch speeders in highway work areas and school zones across the state died in the senate on a 23 to 24 vote.

On Thursday, the bill was quickly revived and passed, on a 27 to 20 vote.

So what gives?

The key to the quick turnaround might have been foreseen in a scene that played out on the Senate floor, just after the conclusion of Wednesday night's floor session.

Supporters and opponents of the bill had been surprised when the bill failed. Senators let out an audible gasp. No less an authority than Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) had a day earlier predicted its passage.

But after a vigorous debate on the issue, where supporters argued the cameras make roads safer and opponents called them an intrusion of privacy intended as cash cow for local governments, Miller voted against the bill. So did Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's), a top Miller ally.

As the session concluded, Sen. James N. Robey (D-Howard) buttoned-holed Miller as he descended from senate chamber's dais.

Robey, a former Howard County police chief, had been one of the measure's strongest proponents. He had sponsored an amendment a day earlier to broaden the Senate proposal to include school zones, the passage of which had been seen as an indication of the bill's likely success.

Now, he was visibly distraught. Miller could be heard telling Robey that his "no" vote had not been intended as a slight and that no one would think less of Robey because the bill failed.

Miller then put his arm around the loyal Democrat and led him out of the chamber, to a more private location.

Did the conversation make a difference?

After the bill's revival the next day, Miller specifically said he had been disheartened by the ribbing Robey took from his colleagues after it failed Wednesday night.

"Rather than have him disrespected, we resurrected the bill," Miller said.

Miller said he was willing to support the bill after reaching an understanding with other

Senate leaders that no bills authorizing individual counties to have speed cameras would be approved this year.

-- Rosalind S. Helderman and John Wagner

By Anne Bartlett  |  April 3, 2009; 3:23 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly , Rosalind Helderman  
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Appalling - whichever position you have on speed cameras - that decisions are being made because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings?? "Rather than have him disrespected, we resurrected the bill," Miller said." Hello, are we grown ups?

Posted by: OutragedinAnneArundel | April 3, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Cameras work to slow traffic, it has been proven over and over again. And, the state needs revenue. Speeders should pay.

There is a cost to society for accident cleanup and speeding is a factor in most traffic accidents. Let's look at it that way. State revenue is used to pay for (among other things) emergency services: police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians. Speeders cause accidents that require first responders like policy, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians.

What's the problem here? The problem is that more people would get caught speeding...they just don't want to slow down. That's why they oppose cameras. All this talk of privacy and money is smoke and mirrors.

Posted by: greatscott47 | April 3, 2009 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I agree that if you choose to speed, you suck it up and pay if you're caught. However, there's a great deal of mis-information about the utility of cameras and whether speeding causing the majority of accidents. See recent WSJ Article (3/27 - "Get the Feeling You're Being Watched ..."). "Studies are mixed on whether traffic cameras improve safety. Some research indicates they may increase rear-end collisions as drivers slam on their brakes when they see posted camera notices. A 2005 Federal Highway Administration study of six cities' red-light cameras concluded there was a "modest" economic benefit because a reduction in side crashes due to less red-light running offset the higher costs of more rear-end crashes.

A study of crash causes released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last July found about 5% of crashes were due to traveling too fast and 2% were from running red lights. Driving off the side of the road, falling asleep at the wheel and crossing the center lines were the biggest causes identified."

The real issue in my mind is whether speed limits are appropriate. In this area, there are many road where the posted speed limits are simply much too low for the type of road and volume of traffic. Thus, people speed (or drive at an appropriate speed for the road). If speed cameras are widely used in this area to slow traffic, gridlock will become even worse.

Posted by: OutragedinAnneArundel | April 3, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

I just wish officers would take care of all the idiots who want to go 50 in the left lane on the beltway. Speed is not the only reason accidents happen. Don't blow through any intersections, don't tailgate, respect weather, signal, and be aware of surrounding drivers (use your mirrors!). Slower traffic stay left!! Cars today are driving on with modern tracking, suspensions, and braking systems on roads with half century old speed limits. Unfortunately, half of the people don't even know the rules they had to study to pass a driving test 20+ years ago.
For example, how many people remember the distance from an intersection where it becomes illegal to change lanes?????

Posted by: julianbobb | April 3, 2009 5:16 PM | Report abuse

The statement "studies are mixed" is a euphemism used by people who do not agree with a political position at all, but know that the position has strong backing and strong proof for its use. Speed limits are only “too low for the type of road and volume of traffic” to the people who drive through said neighborhood, but do not live or walk & bicycle in it. Just because you WANT to go at a particular speed through someone else’s’ home/neighborhood, doesn’t mean you should get to. I whish they’d get speed and light cameras at EVERY intersection Massachusetts Avenue in DC. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about being hit by a suburbanite speeding home or running a red lite to get home quicker, while I’m walking through my neighborhood.

Posted by: jsabol | April 3, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

If you are a foe of Miller or Currie you'd probably better keep an eye out for those cameras. They'll be located right at your favorite intersections.

Given the way Maryland works I think MONEY was likely the wheel greaser. Unfortunately it's was yours and mine monies that got caught under the wheels.

Posted by: RedBird27 | April 3, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

I have no problems with speed cameras in active school zones where kids can suddenly appear out of nowhere. The need in construction zones is not as critical. And the need as a general enforcement tool is all about the money. A better use for traffic enforcement cameras is for red-light running - which is a huge problem that has been getting noticeably worse in Baltimore in the past few years. In downtown intersections it is not uncommon to see 2 or 3 cars blatantly run red lights...

Posted by: maus92 | April 3, 2009 5:29 PM | Report abuse

What ever the reason, thank you Mike Miller and Jim Robey. There is no excuse for speeding through school zones or work sites. Anyone that puts the children or workers at increased risk by not reducing their speed in these areas gets what they deserve.

Posted by: pauhana561 | April 3, 2009 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Once again Miller proves that he does not have a clue of what is going on with the people that live and pay taxes in MD. The only way to fix this is to VOTE MILLER OUT OF OFFICE.

Posted by: overlytaxedinmd | April 3, 2009 5:40 PM | Report abuse

There is a camera on Quince Orchard Road 2 blocks from the intersection with MD-28. Up to that point the speed limit is posted as 40mph with 2 wide lanes each direction divided by a large median. People normally feel comfortable doing 50-55mph there. Then, where the camera sits, they drop the limit to 35mph. Everyone still does 50-55mph right up to the signs, slams on their brakes, then speed up again once they get past the ~100 feet of surveillance. How does slowing traffic to 35mph for 1/2 a block improve safety?

Posted by: IvanaNonymous | April 3, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I travel every day on Randolph Rd in Rockville. If you remember, there used to be a lot accidents related to speed, after cameras were installed near the intersection of Veirs Mill rd / Randolph Rd, people slow down to avoid the fine, as a result accidents and fatalities have decreased.

Posted by: SISP | April 3, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

These traffic cameras are the highway version of slot machines - they make money from fools.

What a theme for April!

Really. If you want to get some place early then leave early. You don't have to rush through life.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 3, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Dumbest Idea Ever.

The game I watch drivers play with the cameras is they try to go as fast as they can coming up to the cameras, jam on the brakes, and then accelerate as quickly as they can. Yeah, that helps safety a lot! Thank god for the cameras. Now I feel safer.

In case most of you don't know, the "kill zone" on these cameras is only about 10 feet "long". Most of the time, the area is helpfully marked with paint. So you don't have to slow down except for a 10 foot strip.

Also, the cameras are set to not ticket until you're 10 MPH over, so that gives you some latitude as well. Know your enemy.

The real losers are the people who will go 15-20 MPH through the cameras in a 35 MPH zone, as if the cameras will give them a break next time if they accidentally speed.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | April 3, 2009 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Oh... and congrats to "pauhana561" who is the first to use the old stand-by "...think of the children...".

I thought that hoary old cliche was gone, but it's funny to see that old chestnut brought up.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | April 3, 2009 9:49 PM | Report abuse

I will drop all of my objections to speed cameras if they make the following simple amendment to the law:
Require that the name and photo of the Governor and the County Executive be prominently displayed at the top of each citation. Someone needs to be personally accountable for the integrity of the system when citizens start getting millions of citations per year, more than the court system is physically capable of providing justice for. Would O'Malley like to sign up to that?

Posted by: afpre42 | April 4, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

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