Speed cameras considered for 50 school sites
If approved by council, devices would be put in place beginning in January
A Prince George's County Council committee voted unanimously today in favor of posting speed cameras in at least 50 county school sites and council members said they expect plenty of complaints from motorists who are fined for speeding.
"[Word] may go out to those who participate in community associations, but they don't necessarily go out en masse," Councilwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale said of the cameras. "There's a lot of concern."
The proposed legislation, approved by council's Transportation, Housing and Environment committee, is scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday. If approved by the County Council, the cameras would begin being placed in January.
The legislation would allow the county Revenue Authority to start selecting where to put the speed cameras, which photograph the license plate of any driver traveling at least 12 miles over the posted speed limit. Council approval of the camera sites will be required.
Owners of cars captured on camera will be mailed a $40 ticket, though it carries no points on a driver's license.
Until they were allowed statewide by the General Assembly earlier this year, speed cameras had only been used in Montgomery County as part of a trial program since 2007. The cameras became legal Oct. 1 across Maryland but, outside of Montgomery County, are currently only used in highway construction zones near the Intercounty Connector on Interstate 95 and in two areas in Baltimore.
Getting the cameras has been a longtime goal for leaders in Prince George's, which tops the state in pedestrian deaths and fatal motor vehicle crashes, according to the State Highway Administration. More than 100 pedestrians and drivers have died each year since 2002 in the county.
A report issued Oct. 1 on the Montgomery County program states that the number of speeders driving 11 miles above the speed limit in camera zones dropped from 2 percent to less than 1 percent. The report from the Office of Legislative Oversight also noted that there was a 39 percent decrease in fatal accidents in Montgomery County in the one-year study period tracking the use of cameras.
Because of state rules restricting the devices to school zones and construction areas, Prince George's will place cameras at 50 county school areas over a period of two and a half years, said Troy Thompson, parking director of the Revenue Authority, who is in charge of implementing the cameras.
Plans are to start small with the program, Thompson said. First, a fleet of 10 vans outfitted with cameras will be posted at potential sites, issuing tickets and collecting data on driving habits. If the sites are seen as high-speed areas, the county will have a private company install fixed cameras at a rate of five locations every three months.
"This is new territory for us," Thompson said last week. "We are proceeding very carefully."
Thompsons said it will cost at least $100,000 to set up the camera system and that the county is in talks with several companies to supply the equipment. The companies will be paid through receiving a portion of the profits from the cameras. Under the rules of the program, any tickets issued in the first 30 days of a new camera are meant as warnings and carry no fine.
County finance officials estimate the operation could reap $1.2 million per year when fully operational.
The new camera laws are far more limited than Montgomery's trial program. Montgomery County and its municipalities are allowed to keep the cameras running 24 hours a day. Prince George's, like the rest of the state, is only allowed to operate the cameras in school zones from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays.
Work zones are too temporary to warrant using cameras, Thompson said.
Some legislators have insisted on limiting use of the cameras amid concerns that they would be used to raise money rather than protect drivers and pedestrians.
Council members have already said they want power to expand where they can place cameras in the future, and several have seen the devices as a potential source of revenue. Others have said they should be able to place cameras on any road where residents have concerns about speeding.
"I think we should, maybe next session, be asking the state to modify it," said Councilman Thomas Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel, adding that the council should make speed camera expansion a priority with the General Assembly. "I've got some serious locations that are not schools where people are screaming for this."
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