Stop Maryland and Montgomery County's Use of Photo Radar, Red Light Cameras and Automated Traffic Enforcement Tell Gov. O'Malley and the Maryland Legislature to Stop the Expanded use of Photo Radar, Red Light and Other Automated Traffic Enforecement!

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I am writing to you to voice my strong opposition to the use of photo 
traffic enforcement devices, and specifically to Senate Bill 269 and 
House Bill 364.

As things currently stand, photo enforcement is an outrage and an 
encroachment upon basic rights of procedure, incrimination, and due 
process which have been in place for nearly a thousand years. 

Photo enforcement of red light and/or speed "violations":

1. Places the burden of proof upon the motorist/car registrant
   and thus lowers the burden the "state" (or private firm
   contracted by the state) has to meet. 
2. Creates separate penalties and burdens of proof for the same 
   violation(s), as well as affords various levels of due process
   for the same violations within different regions of Maryland. 
3. Creates liability for the registrant rather than driver
4. Does not "fix" the moment of the incident so that the motorist
   can gather witnesses or even make notes as to the event to use
   in his/her defense
5. Does not provide adequate notice of a complaint and thus can 
   result in suspensions and other penalties if a vehicle owner
   is ticketed and is away for an extended period of time. 
6. Provides opportunities for the system(s) to be "tricked" into 
   issuing tickets for registrants in a malicious way by "cloning"
   license plates.
7. Is unlikely to survive a pressed legal challenge if allowed to 
   get to the point of constitutional adjudication (rather than have
   serious/legitimate challenges dismissed early on) 

Overall, the current system is sufficiently problematic that I in no way 
wish you to support any EXPANSION of the use of these devices under 
Senate 269/House 364.

We have lived under a rule of law which allows us to directly confront 
and challenge our accusers, to gather and question witnesses, to be 
judged by our peers and not machines. Are you advocating the continued 
use of a system of "enforcement" which allows the state (via civil 
penalties as well as registration suspension) to use a machine as the 
only "witness" and which can not be questioned or scrutinized? Or to 
prevent vehicle registrants from gathering witnesses and evidence at the 
time of the alleged violation by failing to give any notice of said 
violation? Do you support a system which forces the registrant to appear 
for "cloned" violations where a license plate is maliciously copied to 
cause inconvenience (as reported locally as well as in the New York Times)?

I am aware of the arguments that photo radar and photo red light 
detection systems increase safety. However, in neighboring Virginia, 
studies indicated that although red light cameras resulted in a moderate 
decrease in intersection collisions, they resulted in an increase in rear 
end collisions as motorists breaked suddenly to avoid a photo ticket (one 
which a police officer at the scene would be less likely to issue under 
proper circumstances and exercise discretion which the cameras can not 
do). VDOT discovered that if the "yellow" sequence was increased by a 
little bit more than a second, all collisions are reduced. Thus the 
simpler (but less profitable to the state) solution actually did more 
than any photo red light camera could. 

Photo radar suffers from the same infirmities: A given area of road that 
is monitored by photo radar will result in varying degrees of compliance, 
to the point that some vehicles will stay well below the limit while 
others speed by, resulting in speed differential accidents, causing more 
damage and injury than those between cars traveling at similar speeds. 
Additionally, the revenue potential for photo radar encourages counties 
and municipalities to set artificially low speed limits (such as 
Connecticut Ave. just north and south of the Beltway) to "game" the 
system and ensure a steady flow of revenue from cars which are otherwise 
traveling at safe and reasonable speeds. 

While other states which have experimented with photo radar have decided 
or are about to stop all use thereof (eg, NJ,MN,AZ and others), I am 
appalled to see even the consideration of the expanded use of what are 
essentially revenue generation services masquerading as safety measures.  

Traffic safety IS an important goal, and I would ask those legislators 
who are in favor of the expansion of photo radar and red light cameras, 
"What more significant steps have you taken recently to improve safety?" 
Have you paved any roads? Have you ensured that lanes are well painted? 
That exits are clearly marked? That rumble strips be placed along 
highway? That traffic lights are properly sequenced? That roads are well 
lit? That roads (other than the ICC) are built to safely accommodate 
traffic volume so through traffic does not need to travel on local lanes? 

Or is it just easier to pay lip service to "safety" while at the same 
time knowingly winking at county and municipal governments with the 
assurances that they will make a windfall of new revenue with tickets 
cheap enough that most registrants/motorists will not take (or have) the 
time to challenge and just pay out of "convenience", while not making the 
more difficult resource allocation decisions to really do something about 
traffic safety, at a cost many, many more times greater than what photo 
enforcement can ever generate. It is very easy to "say" one is for 
traffic safety by putting up essentially "free" devices (to the state) 
which help keep local tax basis lower, it is quite another to promulgate 
and follow through on significant planning and funding on road 
construction and safety measures which require much more than a cynical 
nod to safety via photo enforcement. 

And why stop at traffic cameras? If strict adherence to road safety were 
the sole concern, why not have officers stationed along Interstates with 
tow-trucks to tow and impound anyone who speeds? We would never let an 
officer have such drastic and commanding authority over a relatively 
minor infraction such as (non-reckless) speeding, and yet the Legislature 
has apparently given and is willing to give even more such authority to a 
set of machines and the private entities which operate them.

Finally, I would submit that the expanded use of photo radar may lead to 
unexpected and/or undesirable consequences. If I know I am late and am 
willing to pay $40, I may be willing to speed through a 45 zone at 80, as 
it makes no difference how fast I go after I pass the threshold. I may 
also be tempted to alter my plate, as if I know all (or most) enforcement 
is done automatically (and as the police have expressed an interest in 
focusing on other matters), I run little risk of detection and no longer 
have to worry about speeding in photo radar zones as I know the "real" 
police never patrol there. Finally, out-of-state drivers will also be 
able to speed with abandon, as there is no financially viable means of 
enforcement of violations on out of state vehicles and indeed, local laws 
in some states may prevent the enforcement of adverse civil photo radar 
judgments (if any) issued in Maryland. 

Red light, speed and traffic enforcement in general is/are too nuanced and
complex to be handled by the simplistic solutions of cameras and civil
judgments, which effectively set up a "pay to speed" or "pay to run red
light" systems. By diminishing the role of police in enforcement and
relying on systems of dubious constitutional legality, the State of
Maryland and the representatives we elect to run and administer it risk a
dimunition of their authority, credibility, and respect, and if photo
traffic enforcement continues (let alone is expanded), it will
increasingly be seen as an abdication of lawmakers and public safety
authorities to effectively do their jobs and a capitulation to the revenue
and greed of both municipalities and the private firms which operate the
enforcement systems, which ultimately is not worth whatever minimal
benefits photo traffic enforcement confers. 

I therefore hope that you will consider the above and vote against any 
expansion of photo enforcement and work to bring back the adherence to 
the proper role of the rule of law in Maryland by ending the photo 
enforcement "experiment" once and for all.

Thank you!

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Last Update: 04/06/2009