NMA E-Newsletter #189: The Next Wave of Ticket Cameras

The small town of Glen Echo, Maryland (population 259) made headlines recently when its mayor proposed a unique addition to the town’s landscape: a stop sign camera mounted at the town’s only intersection.

Maryland statutes don’t currently allow such cameras, so town Mayor Debbie Beers has lobbied state officials for an amendment authorizing their use.

Beers’ justification for the camera focuses on high traffic volume through the intersection (200,000 vehicles annually) coupled with low compliance at the existing stop signs. News reports failed to mention any history of serious traffic accidents, injuries or fatalities at this particular intersection.

Perhaps a clue to Beers’ true aim can be found in the second half of her proposal: As an alternative to the camera, she has suggested that the county let the town to keep the revenue from citations currently being issued by conventional means.

That seems clear enough—this is Maryland after all. A state whose public officials are known as early and aggressive adopters of all things photo enforcement. An amendment to state statute seems like a slam dunk. From there, watch as cameras sprout up at every busy crossroads from Ocean City to Hagerstown.

And while stop sign cameras are not yet in wide use nationally, they have proven highly lucrative where they are.

Take the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles, for example. The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), the agency that oversees the area, set up stop sign cameras at seven locations five years ago, and the results have been nothing if not spectacular. In 2010 alone, these seven cameras issued thousands of citations and generated $2.4 million in revenue for the authority.

Considering the high volume of activity, you may think the cameras were a response to chronic accident issues. Yet, from 2005 (before the cameras) to 2012, the LAPD has no records on file of any vehicle accidents in the area.

Los Angeles camera activist and friend of the NMA, Jay Beeber, has written extensively about the MRCA camera program. His blog posts clearly document (with photos) the systematic abuses MRCA has employed. Check out how MRCA painted crosswalks in the middle of the road to justify the stop signs and the cameras.

This latest photo enforcement scheme follows the standard ticket camera formula for success: keep fines low enough and make mounting a defense hard enough that most motorists simply pay up and move on.

Stop sign cameras represent just one aspect of this next generation of photo enforcement. There are others. School bus camerasautomated license plate readersaverage speed cameras, aerial drones—all have the potential to harm motorists, not to mention ratcheting up the surveillance quotient on our daily lives.

It’s ironic these “tools” that do such a good job of scrutinizing the public have not in turn received the public scrutiny they deserve. In the months to come, look to the NMA to stay informed on these issues so that you can take action if your community decides to catch the next wave.

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