EDITORIAL: The speed-camera lie

Town admits generating tickets for ‘invisible vehicles’

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Traditional law-enforcement duties are best performed by men, not machines. This is the case in Maryland, where speed cameras continue to pronounce the innocent guilty, regardless of mounting evidence that the measuring devices are faulty.

Will Foreman, the owner of Eastover Auto Supply, found this out the hard way on Monday when a Prince George’s County judge refused to consider proof that the cameras don’t always get it right. Mr. Foreman had obtained internal documents from the town of Cheverly that described ongoing reliability problems with the automated ticketing machines. “Not only are the cameras still not functioning properly, they are now producing violations for invisible vehicles going 76 miles per hour (violation #79) and bicycles going 38 and 57 miles per hour (violation #2790 & #2783),” Town Administrator David Warrington wrote in a July 26 letter to Optotraffic, the operator of the dodgy equipment.

Many of these improper tickets end up in Mr. Foreman’s mailbox. With about a dozen drivers making deliveries throughout the area during business hours, his trucks are constantly passing Optotraffic’s web of cameras. Mr. Foreman knows with mathematical certainty that his employees aren’t doing anything wrong. A careful analysis of Optotraffic’s own photographs show Mr. Foreman’s vehicles were not traveling the speed alleged because they didn’t cover a sufficient distance in the time elapsed between the images.

In response, Optotraffic claims the photos aren’t actually evidence of speeding. The snapshots are only used for “identification purposes” so they know where to send the bill. Often, they can’t even get that right. The Maryland-based firm recently sent a Honda owner a ticket even though the car in the photo was a Saturn.

Early on, photographic evidence resulted in acquittals, but judges in the Old Line State are now taking a hard line against factual challenges. “They’re circling the wagons,” Mr. Foreman told The Washington Times. “F. Lee Bailey couldn’t get you off here.” Some challengers even wind up behind bars. On Sept. 23, James Bradford, a 71-year-old man who walks with a cane, tried politely and correctly to explain that there were no speed-limit signs on the route he took past a Forest Heights speed camera. Judge Gerard F. Devlin interrupted and declared the elderly man guilty. When Mr. Bradford had the audacity to quietly say, “I was not speeding,” Judge Devlin snapped to his bailiff, “Take him out in handcuffs. We’ll see if you get the full six months when you come back.”

This may seem like a lot of drama over a $40 infraction, but so many traffic-camera citations are mailed out each month that local governments rake in millions of dollars. In a May 24 letter, Mr. Warrington explained his interest in addressing reliability problems was not ensuring justice but “how we can optimize the productivity of our camera.” Optotraffic gave notice that it would pull out of Cheverly by the middle of the month, but the bogus ticketing will continue in other jurisdictions.

The vast majority of motorists lack the patience needed to contest faulty citations. Mr. Foreman will do all of them a service as he plans to elevate his fight to a circuit court.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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