Business owner casts reasonable doubt on accuracy of speed cameras

PG business owner gets tickets tossed

Will Foreman holds the speeding tickets he successfully challenged in court. Mr. Foreman ironically used the photos shot by speed cameras to challenge the charge of speeding. He’s won five cases and has 40 more outstanding — racked up by drivers for his business, Eastover Auto Supply in Oxon Hill. (Rod Lamkey Jr./The Washington Times)
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Will Foreman has beaten the speed cameras.

Five times and counting before three different judges, the Prince George’s County business owner has used a computer and a calculation to cast reasonable doubt on the reliability of the soulless traffic enforcers.

After a judge threw out two of his tickets Wednesday, Mr. Foreman said he is confident he has exposed systemic inaccuracies in the systems that generate millions of dollars a year for town, city and county governments.

He wasn’t the only one to employ the defense Wednesday. Two other men were found not guilty of speeding offenses before a Hyattsville District judge during the same court session using the same technique.

“You’ve produced an elegant defense and I’m sufficiently doubtful,” Judge Mark T. O'Brien said to William Adams, after hearing evidence that his Subaru was traveling below the 35-mph limit - and not 50 mph as the ticket indicated.

The method?

Mr. Foreman, the owner of Eastover Auto Supply in Oxon Hill, examined dozens of citation photos of his company’s trucks that were issued along a camera-monitored stretch of Indian Head Highway his employees frequently travel.

The camera company, Optotraffic, uses a sensor that detects any vehicle exceeding the speed limit by 12 or more mph, then takes two photos of it for identification purposes. The photos are mailed to violators, along with a $40 ticket.

For each ticket, Mr. Foreman digitally superimposed the two photos - taken 0.363 seconds apart from a stationary point, according to an Optotraffic time stamp - creating a single photo with two images of the vehicle.

Using the vehicle’s length as a frame of reference, Mr. Foreman then measured its distance traveled in the elapsed time, allowing him to calculate the vehicle’s speed. In every case, he said, the vehicle was not traveling fast enough to get a ticket.

So far the judges have agreed.

“I’ve never seen this before,” Judge O'Brien said, as he examined a superimposed photo presented by Mr. Adams, who also employed the technique. “How much time did you spend on this?”

Mr. Foreman said he is awaiting trial on about 40 more tickets, all of which he called “bogus.”

Speed cameras “can be good, but not if they’re abused,” he said after the hearing.

The Maryland General Assembly approved speed cameras in 2009 for school and highway-work zones, two years after a pilot program in Montgomery County. Prince George’s officials have long resisted speed cameras, but many municipalities began implementing them in fall 2009.

Supporters of the devices have argued they reduce speeding over time and increase safety, while many opponents call them a cash cow for local governments.

Mr. Foreman’s tickets were all issued in Forest Heights, a town of about 2,600 where officials expected $2.9 million in ticket revenue this fiscal year, about half the town’s $5.8 million budget.

In Prince George’s County, cameras are operated entirely by municipalities, which can set them up within half-mile school zones. The devices are installed by vendors that typically receive about 40 percent of the payout on each ticket, with the rest going to local, county and state government.

Municipalities other than Forest Heights also use Optotraffic cameras. The Lanham-based vendor also serves New Carrollton, Mount Rainier and College Park as well as the city of Cambridge in Dorchester County, Md.

Optotraffic representatives said the photos are not intended to capture the actual act of speeding, and are taken nearly 50 feet down the road from sensors as a way to prove the vehicle was on the road.

“No one has come to us with a proven error,” company spokesman Mickey Shepherd said Tuesday. “Their speed is not measured by the photos. The speed is measured before the photos are taken.”

An Optotraffic technician was sworn in and offered the company’s defense in the courtroom on Wednesday to no avail.

Mr. Foreman didn’t buy it either. He said it was unlikely that his vehicles slowed significantly after passing the sensors, as photos typically show them with their brake lights off.

While Judge O'Brien let Mr. Foreman off the hook, he ruled against several other accused speeders who based their not-guilty pleas largely on gut feelings that the cameras were flawed, while reducing the fines for some who pleaded guilty.

A Forest Heights official declined to comment after court proceeding.

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