Saturday, December 3, 2011

Speed Cameras Coming To Annapolis

Ever since Maryland allowed local jurisdictions to erect speed cameras, Anne Arundel County has elected to decline to take part in the program. Granted, the state has stepped in and placed some within work zones along Route 295. Still, our county has not exploited this revenue opportunity like many of our neighboring jurisdictions. Now, the city of Annapolis wants to tap into this well.

This week, the Annapolis City Council unanimously approved legislation that fines vehicle owners $40 for traveling 12 or more miles over the posted limit within designated school zones. Amazingly, not a single resident spoke out against the measure during the public hearing.

On its face, the use of speed cameras looks like sound public policy. After all, most parents would support increased speed enforcement around their child’s school. Of course, the motive doesn’t really involve safety. Rather, it’s little more than a money grab for cash strapped municipalities. Typically, a local government will contract with a vendor, who will maintain the equipment, forward the picture of the offending vehicle to police and then mail the citation to the owner. In other words, speed cameras truly mean a cash cow to the businesses behind them.

In theory, the potential for profit shouldn’t make its way into this argument. Still, these enforcement tools often disappear once the revenue fails to meet certain expectations. For instance, Baltimore County recently moved three speed cameras when the once lofty profit projections evolved into a net-loss. Likewise, red light and speed cameras disappeared in other areas such as Arizona and Los Angeles once the earnings didn’t outgain the operating expenses. Wait a minute, didn’t they cite safety concerns as the primary reason for installing these machines?

Bottom line, old-school police enforcement remains the best tool for getting drivers to slow down. If they increase their presence in school zones for a couple weeks, most drivers will cautiously slow down for months. Besides, under this scenario an officer can cite an actual driver instead of automatically punishing the vehicle owner.

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