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Posted at 12:00 AM ET, 05/24/2009

The Good and Bad of Traffic Enforcement

By Marisa Katz

Anyone traveling around Montgomery County cannot fail to notice that the county government has declared a street war on its citizens. The amazing proliferation of cameras and other electronic entrapment devices, at a cost of millions of dollars, has rendered our county roads and streets much less -- not more -- safe.

The positioning of many of these gadgets on a downhill slope immediately following a reduced speed sign is clearly intended to be a "gotcha" perpetrated on anxious drivers. It is a rather sleazy, underhanded way of raising revenue without having to get citizens' approval. The result of these tactics is a dramatic increase in road risks as frightened, intimidated drivers focus on spotting these traps and the various signs that go with them rather than paying attention to traffic and avoiding hitting pedestrians.

The one exception to this malfeasance by the authorities are cameras to catch red-light runners. Those are useful and should stay. All the other traps do not make a positive contribution to road safety and should be removed.

-- Fred D. Ross, Potomac

Traffic cameras are annoying, but they work. Although I consider myself a careful and law-abiding driver, I have gotten several of the $40 letters from the police. I may not be able to face my accuser, but there's little doubt that I am the speeder, and I usually remember the moment when I saw the cameras flash.

I know a few sections of road where drivers have exceeded the posted speed limit regularly and in spite of pleas, reminders and police radar checks. Now, however, with the installation of speed cameras, traffic slows to the correct speed, not just right at the cameras but along the entire stretch of road. It's clear to me that I can avoid the expensive letters by obeying speed limits and stopping correctly at traffic lights.

In addition, we were all taught by our driving instructors that we don't enter an intersection or drive onto a railroad track unless we can see clearly that there is room for our car on the other side. If everyone did this, intersections would not be filled when the light changes, and many fewer cars would be hit by trains. Since we are all in favor of people improving their driving habits, these are good starts for each of us, and we should stop blaming the enforcer.

-- Carolyn Finegar, Gaithersburg

The Most Hostile Place for Cars

Regarding the May 22 front-page article "That Street Sweeper May Soon Give You a Ticket":

After a year of paying two $100 rush-hour tickets and enormous gasoline bills from sitting in downtown gridlock, I sold my car in 2006. Plainly and simply, Washington is hostile to drivers.

If you own a car, the District will find a way to tax, ticket or tow you. From street cameras in areas that don't have clear speed limit postings, to a host of meter maids who literally sit in wait at 7 a.m. on corners, to parking garages that cost upward of $50 a day, to gas stations with inflated prices, to insane inspection standards and fees, this city is the most unfriendly place I've ever lived as a driver.

Nowadays, I own a bike, a SmarTrip card and a Zipcar membership. I'm sure someday the D.C. Council will figure out how to tax my bike, Metro and shared car. By then I'll have moved to the suburbs so I can raise a family amid better schools, bigger parks, more amenities and better roads, which all our ticket dollars are supposed to be providing for us here in Washington.

-- Jamie Rose, Washington

By Marisa Katz  | May 24, 2009; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Montgomery County, traffic  
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Comments

Me, I like the attention on the speed camera story. I very much appreciate the warning signs I've seen around Potomac, MD; thanks potomacsecretagent.com. The signs remind me to drive gently, and, that I'm on camera.

Tom Sakell :: harborsights.com

Posted by: tsakell | May 27, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

I have to thank everyone that contacted me to comment on the signs that were posted throughout Potomac this weekend. The SPEED CAMERA AHEAD ! signs were posted to increase awareness of current speed camera debate.

Many residents are convinced that the proliferation of speed cameras has more to do with income generation then with public safety. What many residents do not understand is that camera locations can DOUBLE in the next 18 months. Those that may not have an opinion now, or be close to a speed camera location in their daily travels, may soon be exposed.

I have been trying to get an honest answer from govenment officials as to how some of the Speed Camera sites are chosen. I have asked 2 questions that they would not answer. All of us should continue to ask these questions until a satisfactory response is offered.

Why aren't the fines generated by these cameras used to promote traffic and public safety instead of going into the general fund?

How are locations for these speed cameras chosen? Does it have more to do with potential tickets, or truly public safety?

Remember, the county is partnering with a private firm in this venture. This firm is not going to expend capital for infrastructure unless they KNOW there will be a profitable return on investment.

I am not against Speed Cameras in general. I think that where they truly promote public safety they are an asset. I feel that residents should have some say as to where these cameras are located, and have input whether the speed limit should be reduced in an area just before the cameras.

Why is the government afraid of allowing local input? Lets make the entire process transparent.

Just food for thought.

Posted by: PotomacSecretAgent | May 27, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

The problem with the speeding camera is that it's a slippery slope. Now the precedent is set for the government to enforce speeding laws with technology. The technology will improve to the point where in a few years, the cameras can be placed on any telephone pole, or on a moving police vehicle, and so in effect we'll be under constant surveillance on the premise of enforcing the speed limit.
Watch out for license plate readers as well. They're already here and promise to further infringe on our privacy.
The real problem is that speed limits are often set arbitrarily, and are too slow, and also that lights are poorly timed causing bottlenecks which then create a "rush" effect once you're through the intersection.
I wish I could believe that the cameras are for safety, but I honestly think they're primarily for revenue. I will vote for candidates that vow to eliminate or reduce these nuisances. If you want to manage speeds around schools, use rumble strips, speed bumps and signs. That's my $40 worth...

Posted by: DontGetIt | May 28, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

We learned long ago in the business world not to try and inspect quality into a product. That's what red light cameras are.

States give out licenses like Halloween Candy and then rely on enforcement and gimmicks like red light cameras to teach people how to drive properly.

How about requiring people to learn, really learn how to drive BEFORE giving a license to drive. In some European countries, you have to undergo over 100 hours of training and many hours on the road before you are given a permanent license.

A license to drive is a privilege, not a right. If we want good drivers, we're not going to get them by hoping after the fact gimmicks intill safe driving habits.

Posted by: NoDonkey | May 28, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

So Ross is an outlaw and can not trust a sense of place to even slow down for a few feet where signs warn. I have no patience with him. If you can not obey the law, you should not drive. If enough people do not like the law - then change it. But don't hide behind selective enforcement with the hope that it will always be "someone else" that gets the ticket. You speed and you should pay.

Or not. If the money is a burden, just give out points.

That ought to fix the crooks. Sooner or later they have to obey the law or get off the roads as drivers.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 29, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

I am a resident of Phoenix, AZ. Phoenix is the "mother ship" for photoradar. We now have hundreds of units everywhere to include interstate highways. It is a way to bolster dwindling property tax bases. We have actually invented an already patented product to defeat photoradar and have a prototype and are trying to move to the next step. Going through a school zone at 40 is obviously a crime that needs to be stopped. Going 65 in a 55 mph zone on an interstate is entirely different - totally intrusive. If you have interest let us know at jacaul@gmail.com.

Here is to safe and responsible good driving.

Posted by: jacaul | May 29, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a problem with law enforcement, nor do I advocate speeding; but I do have a problem with speed cameras (for the record, I haven't been ticketed by one). Because the cameras do not identify the driver, the state issues the ticket to the vehicle's owner, and that is what I have a problem with! While the owner is probably driving most of the time, he or she cannot be driving in every instance. My wife received a citation when the mechanic at her garage test drove her car and sped though a speed camera. WE got the ticket in the mail over a month later and had forgotten about her car being in the shop. Clearly, this is unjust. A uniformed officer must pull a speeding car over and identify the driver who gets the ticket. If the cop cannot pull the car over, he cannot mail a ticket to the owner because it violates the presumption of innocence - and that is what speed cameras do. Without a photo or other ID of the driver, there is considerable doubt about who comitted the violation. Vehicle owners are not proxies for other people's actions, even if we are related to them or know them.

If it is the owner who was driving, then shutup and pay the fine. But when it isn't, the owner should not have to go to court and prove his/her innocence - the state is the accuser and must prove them guilty (which they can't because they weren't driving). So the cameras violate the presumption of innocence, a basic right that we all share. In America, law enforcement should not use methods that infring on our basic rights. Speed cameras would hgave been a great tool for the Gestapo, but are out of place in a country that claims to be free.

Posted by: 3plantes | June 4, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

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