Speed Cameras: Less Speeding, Same Accidents
In 2009, officials said the program was needed to reduce traffic accidents and curb speeding. Speeds are down; accidents are not.
When Baltimore County officials rolled out a network of 15 speed cameras in school zones last year, they said the program’s success would be measured in two ways: less speeding and fewer accidents.
An analysis released last week of the program’s first five months shows a dramatic decline in speeding citations issued by the cameras, which are triggered by cars going more than 12 mph over the speed limit.
The report, however, shows no decline in accidents in those zones.
Still, county officials are declaring that the speed camera program is a success and the County Council is considering legislation to expand the number of cameras. The council holds a hearing on the issue today.
It would appear that reducing accidents — a key measure cited in 2009 when the program was being debated — is no longer a vital benchmark in determining success.
"The goal is to slow people down," said police spokesman Lt. Robert McCullough in response to questions about the lack of a decline in the accident rate.
In 2009, police Chief Jim Johnson and other county and state officials said the need for speed cameras in school zones was also driven by accidents.
During a public meeting at the Towson Public Library, Johnson told nearly 60 people that a police study of public and private school zones found nearly 1,800 accidents within a half-mile of the schools.
Del. Steve Lafferty, speaking at that same meeting, told the audience that speed cameras in school zones are “about protecting children and people who are crossing the street to schools."
"The issue here is safety," a different police spokesman said that same year.
The police at the time and today have not released statistics detailing pedestrian-involved accidents in school zones. McCullough said the accident statistics reviewed in the 27-page analysis included all accident types, but the report does not specify accidents involving pedestrians.
The police department’s speed camera analysis, released Friday, shows that speed citations issued by the cameras dropped 51.5 percent. The study based its finding on a comparison between the first week of the program in August when the cameras issued 4,180 tickets and the 2,100 tickets issued 19 weeks later in December.
Accidents showed no statistical change within a one-eighth and one-quarter mile radius of the cameras.
Ron Ely, founder and editor of the anti-speed camera website stopbigbrothermd.org, said police and other supporters are changing the definition of success in light of the report’s findings.
"Reducing speeds is a mean to an end," Ely said.
The original goal, Ely said, was making people safer by reducing accidents.
Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat and sponsor of a bill that would allow the county to install as many speed cameras as it wants, praised the program's success.
"It's pretty clear that they work and that's why I think there shouldn't be a limit," Quirk said. "The big objective is to slow people down.”
Quirk downplayed the report’s accident statistics while linking the need for more cameras to pedestrian and bicyclist safety. The freshman councilman invited a reporter to take a tour along Edmondson Avenue and witness firsthand the speeds he said make it dangerous for residents in his own neighborhood.
"The big challenge is to start to build communities that are more walkable and bike-able," Quirk said. "Speed cameras are one component of that."