- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2012

School’s out for the summer, so it came as a bit of a surprise Wednesday when Baltimore County, Md., announced new steps supposedly being taken to protect school children. According to officials, construction has begun for the positioning of a speed camera outside Stoneleigh Elementary. There’s one problem with that — Stoneleigh students aren’t just gone for the summer, they won’t be back until fall 2013.

The entire Stoneleigh site is enclosed by a temporary construction fence while crews work to renovate the aging buildings. That means there are no classes, no teachers, no kids and no after-school activities. Yet there will be a speed camera.

In 2009, Maryland’s General Assembly swore that the photo ticketing program it put in place was only motivated by safety concerns. As such, it only allowed the devices to be used in school zones and highway work zones. Critics at the time said these “restrictions” were so loosely drafted that jurisdictions could effectively put a camera anywhere they wanted. They were right.

Stoneleigh, the closed elementary school, is situated on Pemberton Road. The speed camera will be activated five blocks away on Regester Ave. The trick of placing robotic cameras in “school zones” that have no schools is rampant throughout the state. Prince George’s County, for example, preys upon motorists on Glenarden Parkway because classroom buildings technically fall within a half-mile radius of the camera. Actual schools are often located on quiet, low-volume residential streets that don’t generate much ticketing revenue, so cities create the fake school zones on high-volume roads.

Greedy politicians around the nation have taken note and want in on this action. At an annual meeting in Florida last month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors called for the use of ticket cameras on school buses, saying the devices “enable bus drivers to focus on the road and on children to secure their safety rather than monitoring the actions of reckless drivers.”

Legislatures around the country have quietly snuck through bills to make this happen. In Virginia, for example, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bus camera law last year, although the for-profit school bus camera companies haven’t set up shop in the commonwealth yet.

When they do, there will be absolutely no safety benefit. According to the Federal Highway Administration, 67 percent of the fatal accidents involving school kids were caused by the individual behind the school bus wheel, not “reckless drivers.” No public officials are going to go up against unionized school bus drivers when it’s so easy for them to announce a crackdown on an unidentified group of motorists who will receive a ticket in the mail for the most minor of technical infractions.

That’s what happens when politicians get away with wrapping their self-interest around school kids. Whether the programs are run by big-government Republicans in Virginia or revenue-raising Democrats in Maryland, voters need to make it clear at the polls that these cameras aren’t something they will accept in their community.

The Washington Times