Vol. 10, No. 8

February 21 - 27, 2002

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Those $$#%#$$ Radar Cameras

Bay Weekly offers a forum for debating public policy. In this space, we wanted to note views other than those expressed in Bill Burton’s column last week in support of radar cameras ticketing motorists for speeding.

(Burton, who normally has level-headed opinions, sounded like he was in line for a cut from the private companies operating those cameras. We can only assume that Bill’s Subaru wagon is so dangerously overloaded with fishing gear that he cannot exceed the speed limit and need not worry about speed cameras.)

To refresh you, the Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation that would permit local communities to operate speed cameras much the way red-light cameras have been implemented in the last two years. This is much different from radar guns in police cruisers.

Maryland’s most populous areas are promoting radar cameras by saying they will promote safety and free up police officers to fight crime.

Truth be told, communities lobbying for the new law are seeing green — and we aren’t referring here to their conservation leanings. Experience elsewhere shows that radar cameras are huge revenue-raisers at a time when communities are looking for ways to pay for services that people demand.

Montgomery County is salivating at the prospect of issuing some 12,000 tickets a month — which translates to more than $10 million in proceeds.

We’re not sure whether that’s before or after that county pays the company it will, in effect, deputize to act as prosecutor, judge and jury to motorists.

It will be like winning the lottery for the localities that adopt the camera system. But we need to keep in mind that the people who are paying for the prize are the motorists trying to get to and from work every day.

From Telluride to Tasmania, there’s revolt wherever the speed cameras are deployed.

Yes, Tasmania. We ran across a recent item in a Tasmanian newspaper that began: “Six more leadfoots are set to lose their licenses after being caught speeding in the past fortnight.” The story went on to note complaints about the hidden cameras that snared them.

In Colorado, matters got so out of hand that Denver halted its program after a judge ruled that communities had wrongly vested police power in corporations and may have been illegally rewarding those companies for taking extra photos. That ruling came after 160,000 tickets were issued.

Last week, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled further on behalf of motorists, saying that the General Assembly had the authority to regulate (read “rein in”) communities operating these for-profit traffic programs.

In Hawaii, motorists are exhibiting what is being called “camera rage” at that’s state’s aggressive program. In Honolulu, vehicles are traveling in tightly packed caravans to prevent cameras from getting clear pictures, and thousands of covers that obscure tag numbers have been sold.

Maryland lawmakers have the opportunity to nip nonsense like this in the bud by killing the camera legislation.

You can call it a safety program. You can call it a crime-stopper. You can call it Lucille. But its real name is New Tax: a commuter tax levied against the people who must drive the most — often through confusing and poorly marked speed zones.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly