Errors and suspicion cloud operation of speed cameras

Another great editorial, republished without permission from DelmarvaNow.com:

Speed cameras were controversial from the time they were first installed in school zones in the Salisbury area. Some people object to the devices on an ideological basis; others just resent being cited unjustly.

Some of the complaints and criticisms are well-deserved. The cameras are neither foolproof nor perfect. People sometimes get tickets when they weren’t speeding. Sometimes vehicle owners get citations in the mail when someone else was driving. Since there is no “accuser” to face in court, some say the cameras are unconstitutional.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance, which opposes speed cameras in the state, also claims state officials were unable to provide proof and documentation that the devices are kept in good working order at all times, calibrated for the appropriate speed and accurate. Louis Wilen, a spokesman, said a lot of tickets were issued that should not have been.

In Wicomico County, the cameras may only be used in “school zones” where students cross streets in heavy numbers at the beginning and end of each school day. Critics charge that the cameras should, therefore, be turned off when school is not in session. They say the cameras are not about safety at all, but rather serve as a revenue stream for local government.

Salisbury-area residents cite instances when they were issued a citation while their vehicle was parked or in traffic but not moving. And there are ways around getting photographed — reflective coatings on license plates, for example.

In an ideal world, we would have officers stationed at every school at the opening and closing of each school day.

We don’t live in an ideal world.

Law enforcement leaders say since the cameras were installed, average speeds have decreased significantly in those areas. In that sense, the cameras have accomplished one goal. And money obtained through violations in those camera zones has been used to purchase equipment used by accident reconstruction experts, which is an appropriate and productive use of the money.

Perhaps roving cameras could be used to increase the odds of of getting caught without constant monitoring.

However, it seems certain that maintenance and calibration are key. People might grumble if they are caught legitimately, but no one should have to pay a fine for something they did not do.

Speed cameras are not a perfect way to keep speeds down near busy schools. But scrupulous attention to calibration and maintenance would go a long way toward better public acceptance.

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