- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Prince George’s County’s new speed cameras will be provided by a company that has come under scrutiny this year about the accuracy of its devices, county officials said Tuesday.

A panel of county agencies have selected Optotraffic - a Lanham-based vendor that already operates speed-monitoring systems in about 15 county municipalities - to lead the county’s new program that includes speed cameras in as many as 113 locations.

Officials chose Optotraffic from several vendors, despite complaints from residents and some officials that the company’s devices have questionable accuracy and are often placed by municipalities in areas where they will catch the most speeders without necessarily improving pedestrian safety.

Residents have even beaten a handful of the company’s $40 tickets in court by using Optotraffic-issued photos that come with the citations to argue that they were not exceeding the speed limit by 12 mph or more, which is required to receive a citation.

“When that was publicized, we stopped what we were doing and we checked into those claims,” said county police Maj. Robert Liberati, who was among the officials who chose the vendor. “Optotraffic was chosen based on their history and their equipment most matching what the county wanted to do.”

State law allows the state, counties and municipalities to post speed cameras within a half-mile of designated school zones. The General Assembly legalized the devices in 2009.

All of the county’s existing cameras are run by municipalities or the state, which also has authority to post them in highway work zones. The County Council voted in 2009 to establish its own cameras, but the plan was shot down by then-County Executive Jack B. Johnson, a Democrat, who argued the devices would serve as an unpopular tax on residents.

The county expects to debut its first few cameras in late August or early September, in time for the start of the new school year.

Maj. Liberati said county officials selected Optotraffic after visiting, conducting reference checks and listening to presentations from all vendors who issued bids. He said police ran their own tests on the company’s devices and found their accuracy similar to that of police laser guns and in-car radar technology.

While officials said they chose Optotraffic for its track record in reducing speeding, many residents have raised questions since the company debuted its first cameras in the county in 2009.

Concerns have not only focused on the accuracy of Optotraffic’s portable systems, but also on their placement and the company’s requirement that violators send their payments to an out-of-state mailing address.

Will Foreman, an Oxon Hill business owner, has successfully challenged five tickets this year in court using the photos provided with the citations.

Each citation comes with two photos taken 0.363 seconds apart from a stationary point, according to an Optotraffic time stamp. In each case, Mr. Foreman digitally superimposed the two photos to calculate his vehicle’s displacement and velocity to argue that he was not speeding.

“They can’t argue the facts because we exposed their flaws,” he said Tuesday.

Optotraffic executives have disputed Mr. Foreman’s calculations, arguing that the photos are taken at an angle - distorting their scale - and are taken only for identification purposes while the actual speeding occurs several car lengths beforehand.

John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, thinks the devices are of lower quality than those in Montgomery County or the District, and he warned that Prince George’s officials should make sure to value their safety benefit over revenue.

“I do not think that Optotraffic is up to the task,” he said. “You’re talking about a proliferation of cameras; hundreds of those devices that we have real concerns about the accuracy.”

Optotraffic spokesman Mickey Shepherd disputed Mr. Townsend’s claim, arguing that his company’s devices are superior because they can monitor multiple lanes of traffic. He said the company ran its own tests in light of complaints and stands by its product.

“They’ve passed every required test,” he said. “We know our equipment is accurate.”

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