By Ryan Miner
If you thought your liberty was safe inside of the City of Hagerstown, you thought wrong.
The Hagerstown City Council met last Tuesday, February 21 and approved yet another speed camera under the cash cow ruse known as the “Safe Speed for Students Program,” a public safety program, according to the City of Hagerstown’s website, that was
implemented by the City of Hagerstown in April of 2012 with a goal to increase safety for students around our schools with the use of automated speed enforcement. Based on traffic studies conducted before the launch of the program, the presence of speed cameras has contributed to as much as an 80% – 90% decrease in the number of drivers exceeding the speed limit by 12 miles per hour or more in school zones. The cameras were strategically placed in areas where students typically cross the street and where the traffic studies indicated a higher occurrence of speeding drivers.
Using school safety as its manufactured pretext, the majority of the Hagerstown City Council approved yet another speed camera at the new Jonathan Hager Elementary School. Four city councilpersons – Don Munson, Kristin Aleshire, Emily Keller and Lew Metzner – voted for the diminution of due process.
One city councilman, Paul Corderman, however, courageously voted against the speed camera tyranny, noting that he is uncomfortable with speed cameras and stated that many constituents are uncomfortable with the cameras.
Corderman obviously understands that speed cameras are nothing more than a ruse implemented by municipal and county governments, disguised under the incredibly disingenuous appearance of public safety for school students. In reality, governments use speed cameras to bolster their budgets, or, in so many reported cases, to rectify poor budgeting decisions.
That’s right, governments implement speed camera programs as a means to generate revenue to pay for budget gaps. Consequently, politicians sell the program with a lie: “it’s for the kids; it’s all about safety for kids.” That’s bullshit. The same politicians can then go back to their constituents and claim with a straight face, nonetheless, that they didn’t raise taxes, but they did stop speeders while collecting $40.00.
If municipal governments, like the City of Hagerstown, endeavored to halt aggressive driving inside of school zones, then why wouldn’t they consider using devices that actually stop speeders in real-time, like oversized speed bumps and radar speed signs – empirically-proven traffic control devices that actually stop aggressive driving.
While some politicians claim that speed cameras will, over time, affect a driver’s behavior when traveling through the school zone, what they won’t tell you is that speed cameras cannot and do not definitively – as a matter of basic physics – stop a motorist from speeding through a designated school zone. If an aggressive driver intends to speed in a designated school zone, no stationary speed camera that dolls out a meager $40.00 traffic fine will stop said motorists from barreling through said school safe zone.
Speaking of those $40.00 fines, have you considered that if safety was the true goal of using speed cameras, then why would local governments not increase the traffic fine to $80.00, perhaps, or even $100.00, or more? Wouldn’t an increased traffic fine be a strong deterrent in preventing repeat traffic offenders? Seems logical, no?
Municipal and county governments are fully cognizant that motorists will likely bypass the mess and bother of having to miss work and show up to court to contest the traffic ticket. Paying the $40.00, governments assume, would be the easier bargain and much less time-consuming. After all, local governments assume most motorists can just simply keep paying that $40.00 fine, knowing full well they’ll never beat the system if they do show up to court.
Speaking of the system, that is, our constitutional system of government that guarantees specific inalienable rights – enumerated in the Bill of Rights – speed cameras destroy our due process. A driver ticketed by a police officer can question that officer in court. The same isn’t true with an inanimate speed camera.
“You do have a due process right to cross-examine your accuser, and in this case, your accuser is a machine,” said Jim Harper, who is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C. “The courts should figure out a way to allow people to ensure that the machine is functioning properly.”
That’s part of the problem with the legal process – automated cameras often don’t function properly, and it’s virtually impossible to check them retroactively.
If the government has created an unconstitutional law/ordinance that has taken people’s money without affording them the necessary due process protections, should not justice demand, and the law require, restitution of that money to the people?
Hold up, exclaims speed camera promoters: “But you can face your accuser in court.” Yes, that’s true, but consider that the speed camera operator’s salary is fronted by the state. He or she shows up to court, acting as an agent on behalf of the state, to testify that his or her speed cameras are working just fine and without issue.
So let’s get this straight: an agent of the state shows up to testify that his or her automated machine was calibrated correctly, further telling the judge that you, the defendant, could not possibly have a case in question. If that’s what local governments consider due process, we should be embarrassed.
When any elected official stands up against tyranny in defense of liberty, A Miner Detail will stand with that elected official – each and every time.
A Miner Detail genuinely dislikes righteous indignation; but in this case, we’ll show some flexibility. The Hagerstown City Council should be ashamed of themselves for selling the lie that public safety is the primary motivation for implementing yet another speed camera. No matter how much they try to explain it, the City Council encroached on your liberties; we will not allow them to explain away tyranny. Not this time. Not ever.
Councilman Corderman, you, sir, are a champion of liberty! Keep fighting the good fight. We’re with you
Here are a few more arguments against speed cameras.
- The right to face your accuser in court and cross examine witnesses is guaranteed by the US Bill of Rights. Speed cameras deny you this right because the accuser is a machine.
- Speed cameras are a form of mass surveillance over ordinary drivers. The government is forbidden from engaging in sweeping surveillance systems without warrants to look for offenders of crimes. Only DRIVERS, rather than career criminals, are currently considered bad enough by the state legislature to justify such a system. It is possible that the cameras, or the data they collect, could one day be used for purposes other than speed enforcement, which may already be happening.
- The lack of human oversight means that no one person will be held accountable if there are widespread errors or misconduct by officials.
- Since tickets are received weeks later, the accused has a very limited ability to gather evidence in their defense. This is particularly true of mobile cameras which may no longer be in the same location, or ‘workzone cameras’ where the location may have been substantially changed by the time the defendant becomes aware of the alleged offense.
- Tickets are issued to the owner of the vehicle even if they are not the driver. Fully a third of speed camera tickets are going to people who did not in fact commit the offense because someone else was driving at the time. This is of even more concern now that courts in Maryland have declared paying a citation to be an “admission of speeding”.
- Ticket Recipients who challenge citations have their cases heard in an unfair court proceeding commonly known as District Court ‘Speed Camera Day’, where dozens of defendants have their cases heard in an assembly line manner. Because the burden of proof for speed camera tickets has been lowered below that of a criminal case, below that for even ordinary traffic violations, defendants are essentially ‘guilty until proven innocent’. Judges have in some cases made statements to the effect that ‘the only acceptable “not guilty” plea was if someone else had been driving their car at the time the ticket was issued, and to present that driver.” At Speed Camera Day hearings the government is free to present evidence without supporting witnesses, something which would normally be a violation of the “Rules of Evidence”. In some cases, defendants are found guilty even when they have proven that required operating procedures were not followed. In many cases even when a defendant requests the “operator” of the camera to appear, in the manner described on the citations, judges have instructed that those operators need not testify, something which goes against several supreme court rulings on the spirit of the “Confrontation Clause” of the US constitution. Not only does this set a horrible legal precedent, and risk finding innocent people guilty, but it gives no incentive for the government agencies which are enforcing the law to obey the law themselves.
- The safety benefits of automated traffic enforcement systems have been mixed. Red light cameras have actually been proven to INCREASE accidents(see more studies). One study in the UK have shown that other forms of speed control, such as speed bumps and speed indicator signs are much more effective at reducing accidents. Another UK study demonstrated that speed cameras did not reduce accident rates in highway work zones, concluding “No significant difference was observed in the PIA[Personal Injury Accident] rate for sites with and without cameras.” In one case a Montgomery County town was found to have made claims about reductions in accidents which were found to be false when compared to their own monthly police reports. In Baltimore County, the police reported no reduction in accidents near speed camera sites. Baltimore City saw accidents rise from 2009 to 2012 while they were adding speed cameras.
- There are other ways to reduce speeds, such as the use of radar speed signs, that are every bit as effective if not more so than speed cameras. The profit motive of speed cameras encourages the government to ignore the alternatives.
- Speed cameras do not remove the worst drivers from the roads the way a police officer can. Drunk drivers or a reckless criminal in a stolen vehicle, who might pose an immediate risk to pedestrians and other motorists, could ignore a speed camera completely. And since the current system issues no points for citations, a wealthy but extremely bad driver can receive dozens of speed camera tickets without losing their license, if they pay the fines.
- Speed cameras encourage erratic driving behavior. Drivers slow down as they approach the camera sites, then accelerate after they pass them. Cameras make some already safe drivers nervous. And enforcement which is too strict could have unintended consequences such as causing drivers to spend too much time looking at their speedometers rather than at the road.
- The platitude that “if you don’t speed you won’t get a ticket” is UNTRUE because there have been many proven cases of speed cameras issuing tickets in error. Recent events in the city of Baltimore proving systematic errors by that city’s cameras were only the latest, there have been many other instances of proven errors elsewhere in the state. Even if the driver believes they are innocent, they need to spend days fighting one $40 ticket in court, and would probably not find it worthwhile to do so except as a matter of principle. In some extremely sad cases, even a well-prepared defendant might find themselves before the judge who has decided in advance that he will not allow any defense challenging the accuracy of the cameras: a scenario which is a total perversion of the principals of our justice system. A commercial driver could potentially be fired over an erroneous camera ticket issued to an employer-owned vehicle.
- The speed cameras are NOT operated by sworn police officers. Instead, this is outsourced to a private company. For example, under Montgomery county’s camera program their contractor receives a $16.25 per ticket commission from these cameras, despite the fact that this violates a provision of state law intended to forbid paying contractors based on the number of citations issued or paid. This practice is now common throughout the state despite past promises that it would not be done. Essentially the contractor which generates the evidence used in court cases gets paid only if the defendant is found guilty, a clear conflict of interest. Moreover, the fact that local governments have circumvented this part of the law simply to guarantee a revenue stream brings into question whether ANY limitations on cameras will be respected. The US Public Interest Research Group issued a study cautioning on numerous dangers of privatizing law enforcement, including contingent fees and other contract arrangements that give contractors a motive to ticket safe drivers, and Maryland has become a perfect example of what they were cautioning about.
- These cameras are about REVENUE. Some local governments see them as a way to make big money off of passing motorists who do not know the camera locations the way local drivers do. Speed cameras are now a $77million industry in Maryland. Washington DC’s speed and red light camera systems have issued 2,952,333 tickets worth $224 million as of July 31, 2007. Most of that money has come from Maryland residents. Another prime example: the town of Forest Heights budgeted to bring in more gross revenue from speed camera tickets in FY2011 than the town’s entire pre-speed camera budget in FY2010. At least one county executive openly admitted that the cameras are ‘a tax‘, and one Chevy Chase Village council member once referred to speed camera money as “the crack cocaine of local government” as the town was searching for creative bookkeeping techniques to circumvent restrictions on speed camera money.
- Speed Cameras are magnets for corruption. Speed Camera Contractors lobbied heavily for statewide speed cameras, even buying lawmakers steak dinners. In Prince George’s County, the county’s speed camera contract was awarded to a company with questionable technology which had made substantial contributions to the county executive. Local governments have written funds into their budgets before camera locations were even selected. One town was found to have written their contract in such a way as to require the contractor to generate a profit. Other localities have bypassed restrictions on the use of funds. Many towns and cities in Maryland have even started creating new school zones solely for the purpose of deploying speed cameras, in one case even trying to lower speed limits just so they could issue more tickets. The desire for more public funds at any cost ignores the fact that using law enforcement for revenue generation is harmful to our justice system, creating a conflict of interest by the state against the accused. Future administrations may be encouraged to use overbearing tactics to increase revenues — such as concealed cameras, deliberately lowering speed limits, deceptive or inadequate signs, or cameras placed immediately after the sign reducing the speed limit.
- Because of their revenue potential, speed cameras are used as a heavy handed substitute for sound engineering approaches which can be more effective than speed cameras at reducing drivers speeds.
- Speed cameras tend to encourage local governments to set speed limits artificially low to increase revenues INSTEAD OF basing them on the standard traffic engineering practices. Speed limits have specifically been lowered at speed camera sites in several towns including Brentwood, Mount Rainier, and Cheverly. Another example would be one camera in the City of Gaithersburg where, at the request of a ticket recipient, the SHA conducted a traffic study and concluded the 30mph speed limit was set 10mph too low, stating “Observations of the [speed] camera’s impacts to traffic noted that motorists would brake significantly at each camera location, followed by accelerating immediately afterwards. This effect was most pronounced at the southbound camera, where motorists were observed frequently bunching together at the camera position. Given the recent installation of the cameras, quantifiable safety data is not yet available; but the current conditions may pose a more significant risk for rear-end and sideswipe conditions and, with speeds increasing immediately beyond the cameras, may not be achieving the desired safety benefits.” Instead of accepting the SHA’s judgment, however, the city requested that the 30mph limit zone be EXTENDED to cover another portion of roadway to southwards a point which happened to be just below camera site with a 35mph limit. Speed limits should be set according to sound engineering practices, NOT based on what will produce more ticket revenue from out of town drivers. Setting them too low turns law-abiding citizens into lawbreakers and does not benefit safety.
- Speed cameras can contribute to traffic congestion. Cameras are typically placed without first performing a traffic study intended to confirm the speed limit and determine the effect on traffic patterns. the only study performed is typically done by camera vendor,s who get a cut of each ticket, to determine whether or not the site will make money. The fact that cameras are used to enforce speed limits much lower than standard traffic engineering practices would dictate creates a situation where drivers to slow down to well below the speed limit for the 100 yards near speed camera sites before speeding up again, a fact which is easily observable at many camera sites.
- The cameras Maryland has now are merely a “special introductory offer” which is NOTHING compared to what we will have in 4 or 5 years if left unchecked. Those who profit from cameras are continuously lobbying to raise fines, remove restrictions, and introduce new types cameras for common ‘technical violations’ which have little or nothing to do with safety. Because of the revenue, the cameras create, YOUR TAX DOLLARS are being spent by some local governments to lobby to block legislation which would alleviate some of the complaints listed hear and to promote legislation authorizing new types of photo enforcement and to remove existing restrictions. There is no limit to how far some would go to restrict your driving freedom and your legal rights in order to more easily extract money from you.