- - Monday, November 25, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Officials in the District of Columbia waited until Friday to bury the announcement that 130 new revenue-enhancement cameras are being deployed on the streets of the nation’s capital. Locals have learned a speed camera lurks hidden behind the “Welcome to Washington” sign, and they’re jamming on the brakes, so the big-spending bureaucrats in City Hall had to come up with a solution to keep the ticket money flowing. The latest invasion of cameras will create expensive “gotcha” moments at stop signs, crosswalks and intersections.

D.C. intersections are notorious for shortchanging motorists with the minimum possible amount of yellow signal warning. A driver who pulls up to the light as it turns yellow might put his foot down to make it through before it turns red. His reward for doing so will be a snapshot from the new “intersection enforcement” camera, along with a ticket for up to $300. If he decides not to speed up, he could miss the light and be billed $150 by the red-light camera. Even when traffic snarls, a “gridlock camera” is there to dish out $50 citations to those who become trapped with nowhere to go.

The worst thing about getting such tickets in the mail weeks or months after the alleged crime is the near impossibility of clearing one’s good name. WTOP radio found two drivers who had to go to the extreme of videotaping their speedometers as they drove so that they’d have concrete evidence they could use to fight back against bogus tickets. Their effort was not in vain. Morningside, Md., sent these individuals notices claiming they drove 15 mph too fast, when the video proves that they had been dawdling at the speed limit.

Bogus camera readings are an epidemic. In Baltimore County, the company that operates the revenue cameras admitted “radar effects” caused at least 5 percent of tickets to be based on erroneous speed estimates. That means the county falsely accused perhaps 45,000 automobile owners, though it only agreed to refund 1,400 citations. Greenbelt and Hagerstown also had to refund more than a thousand tickets earlier this year after these jurisdictions were caught ignoring their duty to independently verify the accuracy of the cameras.

Maryland law states that, “A speed-monitoring system shall undergo an annual calibration check performed by an independent calibration laboratory.” When The Washington Times asked Salisbury, Md., to show proof of compliance, the city offered certificates showing the checks were performed by the camera manufacturer Sensys Traffic, which can hardly be considered independent. Even if the company’s testing were accepted as valid, Salisbury allowed the certificates for five revenue cameras to expire for more than a month at a time.

A number of cities have resisted release of these calibration records so fiercely that the Maryland Drivers Alliance has had to resort to a lawsuit to compel Brentwood and Morningside to provide them under the state’s open-records law. Ron Ely, the group’s chairman, reviewed the Salisbury documents and found they showed the city in noncompliance with the law. “It’s no wonder they tried to keep me from getting them for so long,” he said.

Salisbury must now do what neighboring cities have done and refund the improperly issued citations. Otherwise, the city is just confirming what everyone knows. The gimmicky traps are designed to part tourists and commuters from their money, not to enforce the law and make anyone safer.

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