2019 | Traffic

County’s Lead-Footed Drivers Rack Up $16 Million in Speed-Camera Citations

AAA study shows a quarter of fines in state are from Montgomery

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A speed camera in Rockville.

Rockville City Police Department

Nearly a quarter of the $64 million collected in Maryland from speed camera tickets in 2018 came from Montgomery County, according to a new report from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

The county’s 12-year-old speed camera program collected $15.95 million from 398,871 citations, and both categories led all jurisdictions in Maryland. Baltimore City was second at $9.6 million, followed by Prince George’s County at just under $7 million.

Drivers in Gaithersburg paid more than $2 million in citations, with Rockville close behind at $1.8 million and Takoma Park at $1.2 million.

The county police department’s Safe Speed program enforces speed limits in residential areas of 35 mph or less and in all school zones in accordance with state laws. Drivers going more than 12 mph over the limit get $40 civil citations. No points are assessed on driving records; fines are mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner.

“In many cases it is enough to modify bad driving habits or to compel some motorists to drive with a halo around their heads when they are within range of a speed camera,” AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs said in the report.

Roads fitting the state requirements are selected for speed cameras through a process that includes verification, data collection and analysis, and a site visit from a traffic division director. Recurring collisions, speeding problems, road specifications and environmental factors are all considered before the cameras are put in place.

The county currently has five cameras operated in vans, 34 portable camera units and 38 fixed pole cameras.

Nearly a third of speed camera tickets in Maryland are issued to drivers exceeding the threshold speed by just 1 mph, according to the AAA report.

The program, as well as a similar red-light camera system, have been criticized as ways to boost government revenues as some drivers believe the $40 fine is not worth the time to appear in court to challenge the ticket.

Safety advocates have a different view.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2015 found the cameras in the county reduced speeding of more than 10 mph over the limit by 59% compared with similar roads in Virginia. A comparison of crashes in the two jurisdictions found a 19% reduction in fatalities or incapacitating injuries on the camera-eligible county roads.

“Speed cameras get drivers to ease off the accelerator, and crashes are less likely to be deadly at lower speeds,” IIHS President Adrian Lund said in the report. “This study connects the dots to show that speed cameras save lives.”

The institute also surveyed residents about the speed cameras and found 95% were aware of them and more than 75% said they reduced their speed because of them. Despite 59% having received a speed-camera ticket, 62% said they favored having them on residential streets.

“We’re all accustomed to seeing posted limits ignored, but it’s a mistake to think nothing can be done about it,” Lund said. “Automated enforcement is one of the tools we have at our disposal.”

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com