- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

Maryland’s General Assembly has approved a plan to introduce traffic cameras statewide. We urge the governor to veto the bill and keep the Free State free of this scam.

The Maryland Senate voted 27-20 on April 2 to approve a bill that gives localities the authority to set up speed cameras across the state. The driving force behind the legislation is revenue. House Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany Democrat, called it “nothing more than a money grab.”

A limited pilot program in Chevy Chase exposes how much money traffic cameras generate. Revenue for the village’s program is projected to be $7.4 million in fiscal year 2009. Chevy Chase’s total budget is $4.5 million. According to Samuel Lawrence, head of the budget committee for Chevy Chase’s board of managers, “The village now has cash reserves in its general funds that are over $3 million, which is a very handsome figure.” The windfall is being used to dramatically increase the size of local government.

Maryland’s legislature is promoting photo enforcement under the guise of safety by first introducing traffic cameras in work areas and school zones, but the bill stipulates that violations can be charged “regardless of whether workers are present” in a supposed work zone. The bill’s expansive definition of a school zone allows for traffic cameras a half mile away from a school, and the automated machines operate late in the evening long after students have gone home.

Traffic cameras are not run by police departments, but by private firms that reap huge profits from the business. Of Chevy Chase’s projected revenues, Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas will make $3.5 million. Camera companies do all the traffic-enforcement work and send governments their share of the profits. The firms - many of which are based in foreign countries - take the photographs, decide who is guilty, mail the tickets, provide testimony in administrative hearings and collect all payments.

The profit motive provides incentive for these companies to maximize violations, and thus their earnings. In Montgomery County, photo-enforcement cameras are hidden behind signs and other obscure spots designed to trap drivers. Downhill locations with very little accident history are common, as are high-volume, multilane divided highways.

The statewide proposal was set to become law last year, but state and local bureaucrats - acting like dogs fighting for table scraps - could not agree on how the revenues would be split. Gov. Martin O’Malley has promoted the revenue generator. Now that the bill is ready to be signed, it is up to the governor to draw the line in the Old Line State by reversing course and saying no to this cash grab.

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