Toss Your Red Light Camera Ticket

July 1, 2009

The Washington Times has exposed the dirty little secret of the red light camera industry in Virginia. Mailed tickets can be ignored.

As The Washington Times reported four years ago, state law says a private company may not simply drop a ticket in a mailbox and expect it to be considered valid service. Unless a driver receives a hand-delivered copy, the citation can be thrown away without consequence. Depriving Alexandria and its revenue-collecting partner of cash is the surest way to ensure this unsafe program disappears for good.

The Times, of course, recommends this drastic course of action for a good reason. Accidents skyrocketed in Washington, DC and Virginia wherever the cameras have been used. In 2005, The Washington Post proved that accidents doubled at monitored intersections in the District. In 2007, VDOT proved injuries and overall accidents likewise increased in the Commonwealth as a whole, and Alexandria in particular.

The Times further nails the city for trying to pull another yellow light scam. A camera on South Patrick & Gibbon has a 4 second yellow, but just one block later at South Patrick & Franklin the yellow is just 3.5 seconds. Same road, same speed limit, but with the shortened yellow you’re much more likely to be zapped by the camera at Franklin. Given these facts, it’s obviously all about the money for Alexandria, not safety.

Read the whole “Toss Your Ticket” editorial here.

Given these facts, it’s obviously all about the money for Alexandria, not safety.

Montgomery County Speed Camera Love-In

June 18, 2009

John DamskeyLast week the Montgomery County, Maryland Council wanted to promote a plan to blitz the area with yet more speed cameras. For best effect, council members invited their top salesman, John Damskey, Director of the Montgomery County Police Department Traffic Division. The council made the right choice. The articulate Damskey has a look in his eyes that just says he wants to be the next police chief. The only way that will ever happen is to deliver exactly what the council wants, regardless of the truth.

“In December of 2008 we were asked to provide some statistics to show the benefit of the program,” Damskey said.

So he created some: First, a 22% reduction in speed at camera sites. This reflects the obvious phenomenon of people slamming on their brakes when approaching a  camera zone. This frequently creates a backup where speeds are 10 MPH or more under the limit. But Damskey’s crown jewel was this amazing figure: a 53% reduction in fatalities in Montgomery County thanks solely to the speed cameras.

An impressive figure, until Councilman George Leventhal accidentally rained on Damskey’s parade.

“Captain Damskey, the statistic that you cited of a 50% reduction in fatalities certainly got my attention,” he gushed. “Is that in a one year period, or two years since the introduction of the program?”

George had all the right intentions. He obviously realized that the bare minimum for a statistical relevance would be one year of data. Since fatal accidents are the most rare, you really would want at least two years of numbers upon which to base any conclusion.

It turns out that Damskey was comparing the first few months of 2009 to the same period in 2008. In other words, he wasn’t doing an honest before/after comparison, he cherry picked six months worth of data with cameras in use to compare with another six month of “after” data. It was an after/after comparison where the numbers happened to look good.

It turns out that statistical time periods are the Achilles heel of Maryland photo radar presentations. In a must-read 2002 Weekly Standard article, investigative reporter Matt Labash came up with a similar question for Damskey’s colleagues in Howard County.

At a congressional hearing last summer, they were automated enforcement’s star witnesses. Wearing their gold-braided dress blues and wielding their Power Point displays, they proceeded to declare their three-year-old red-light camera program an unqualified success, boasting a reduction in collisions of between 18 percent and 44 percent at every intersection where a camera had been installed.

The statistics were impressive. Still, confused as to the time periods being monitored, I called Lt. Glenn Hansen to ask for clarification. “You’re right, it’s confusing,” said the media-friendly Hansen, who runs their program. “You’re a writer, maybe you can give us advice on how to do better in the future.” It turns out Hansen had no idea what the time periods were either, except that the times measured before and after installation of the camera were equal. But when I obtained accident statistics for all the county-road intersections where cameras had been placed, the numbers didn’t square with the ones presented at the congressional hearing.

Labash did a real before/after comparison and found that total accidents actually increased 16%. But let’s move along from that. Damskey has more to say, and you need to know Maryland law to understand the full impact of what he was trying to do. MGA Statutes §21–809(j) states:

If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of Montgomery County, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid.

Montgomery County does pay ACS a contingent fee of $16.25 for each citation issued. Damskey explained all the things that ACS does in return for all of that money:

  • ACS owns the cameras
  • ACS does all maintenance and repair
  • ACS does site management
  • ACS does IT services
  • ACS does name and address acquisition
  • ACS does initial review and all data entry
  • ACS does payment processing
  • ACS does customer service
  • ACS does printing and mailing services
  • ACS does site construction
  • ACS does back office processing

What does Montgomery County do? It “manages” the program, which means in Damskey’s view that the county isn’t violating the law because managing is operating.

So the next time you’re pulled over for speeding in Montgomery County, be sure to tell the officer that you did not break state law because you were not operating the vehicle by Captain Damskey’s definition. In fact, the real operator was the friend in the back seat yelling that you needed to hurry up or you’d be late.

So how did the council rate Damskey’s performance?

“It was exactly what I was looking for,” Council Vice President Roger Berliner said.

Congratulations, you’re well on your way to becoming chief one day, Captain Damskey.

Watch Damskey’s show.


Deadly Red Like Cameras Return to Alexandria, VA

June 17, 2009

Reprinted with permission from thenewspaper.com:

Alexandria will pick your pocket starting July 15.

Alexandria will pick your pocket starting July 15.

Red light cameras have returned to Northern Virginia. The city of Alexandria announced for the first time yesterday that a private company has re-installed cameras at three intersections with citations going out on July 15. Until now, the city has been quiet about the revived program, hoping to avoid a public discussion of the controversy over accidents that persuaded the legislature to shut down the program in 2005.

According to a report by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the total number of accidents increased 43 percent at the Alexandria intersections where red light cameras were used. Across the five main cities in the state using cameras, the report found an overall increase in injury accidents of 18 percent. This time, Alexandria did not consider bringing back cameras for safety purposes.

“The Red Light Camera program is not considered a core public safety service,” Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartman wrote in a March 24, 2008 memo to the city council.

Instead, the city has missed the revenue from the 82,000 tickets issued over the lifetime of the program.

“Collections through May were eleven percent lower than collections last year because of the elimination of red light camera revenue,” Hartman explained in a June 2006 city budget memo after the program was terminated. “Based on collections-to-date and projected collections, staff projects that fines and forfeitures will approximate $3.8 million, a decrease of $0.1 million below the Approved FY 2006 Budget.”

The return of red light cameras is helping to boost ticket collections for Fiscal Year 2010 to $4.6 million, an 11.8 percent increase from the previous year. With three cameras installed, gross photo ticket revenues are expected to be $450,000 per year with private vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) pocketing $180,000. Payments to ATS are made through a “cost neutral” contract which compensates ATS on a per-ticket basis up to a level capped at approximately $5000 per intersection per month. The group CameraFraud.com argues that this arrangement directly violates a state law banning per-ticket payments for red light camera programs.

To deflect the appearance that revenue is the program’s sole focus, Alexandria places general budget expenses on the red light camera program account to reduce the apparent net profit generated. The city is once again adding “special police officers” (SPOs) to the red light camera payroll to “review” citations at a total cost of $115,000 per year in salary.

“Alexandria uses SPOs rather than sworn police officers to review the Red Light Camera images,” a March 2008 city memo explained. “The SPO is a less expensive civilian, uniformed position with limited enforcement powers.”

Vendor presentations explain that it takes less than twenty seconds to “review” and give the private company permission to mail a red light camera citation. In 2005, Alexandria generated an average of 1550 such citations each month, at which rate these two SPOs would split a total of nine hours worth of work per month. In reality, such reviews either are not done or are done as “bulk approvals” where entire stacks of citations are electronically signed with a single mouse click. Evidence shows that Alexandria’s SPOs in reality served as little more than security guards.

“The SPOs handled all reviews of the citation images while performing their primary security duties at 2003 Mill Road and the police offices at 2034 Eisenhower Avenue,” the March memo explained. “Their security functions at 2003 Mill Road had been largely assumed by the Sheriff’s Office, which screens all visitors as they enter the parking lot.”

Revenue may not meet expectations once motorists who receive citations from the new Alexandria or Virginia Beach red light camera program realize that they may safely discard them without payment. Although the legislature reinstated the red light camera program in 2007, it did not change the requirement that tickets must be personally served to be valid. VDOT explained this issue in 2005.

“Although the statute permits the jurisdiction to make the initial attempt to summon the accused to court via mail, if the person fails to respond, he or she is not considered to have been satisfactorily served with notice,” VDOT explained (view report). “The average citizen is probably not aware of this loophole, but if word were widely disseminated, such knowledge could completely undermine the effectiveness of red light camera programs, as citations issued to violators would lose their practical impact.”

Original article here.


Reckless D.C. Mayor Endangers Streets of Nation’s Capital

June 7, 2009
Reckless Mayor Caught on Camera

Click to enlarge the "evidence" provided by ATS

Last month, the reckless mayor of the District of Columbia hurtled down East Capitol Street in North East Washington at the breakneck speed of 43 MPH — a full 13 miles per hour in excess of the speed limit. Fortunately, scofflaw Adrian M. Fenty’s vehicular rampage was stopped dead in its tracks two weeks and four days later when a ticket was finally dropped in the U.S. mail.

American Traffic Systems (ATS) had issued the demand for the immediate payment of $50 to the “DC DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS,” the registered owner of the tiny taxpayer-funded Smart car. As one can see from the photographs taken by the ATS machine, Mayor Fenty was driving without due care and attention by straddling a second lane without any apparent use of a turn signal — just the sort of thing for which ATS plans to begin issuing tickets as part of the public-private partnership to boost revenue with “secondary violations.”

Now, we don’t actually think Fenty’s driving in this case endangered anyone. Driving 43 MPH on a six-lane boulevard on a clear day in light traffic is what the safe and reasonable majority of drivers do. By underposting speed limits and criminalizing ordinary conduct, the District has been able to profit from more than 3,732,234 photo tickets issued since 1999 worth about $280 million. The difference in this particular case is that Fenty is a hypocrite. The photographic money machine can only keep flashing if mayors like Fenty demonize motorists who are not endangering anyone. The other difference is that when we do that, we get the ticket and we have to pay it.

Attention Maryland High School Students: This is the mayor's plate

Attention Maryland High School Students: This is the mayor's plate

In Fenty’s case, the cost of the car, the gas, and the tickets are all paid by the taxpayer. In fact, you would never have known about this incident had the Washington City Paper not known that the mayor and his personal assistant frequently drive the black and gray Smart car with license plate CV-6154. Reporter Mike DeBonis ran that plate through the online database and caught the May 11 incident before it was erased from the system.

Now that Fenty has been caught, a city spokesman told the City Paper, “He’ll pay the ticket.”

What do you want to bet that would be the first time he’s ever paid with his own money? Next time, he’ll probably just take the motorcade.


Deadly Red Light Cameras Spread in Virginia

June 5, 2009
Redflex Doesn't Care How it Gets Your Cash

Redflex Doesn't Care How it Gets Your Cash

Virginia Beach has the only red light camera program currently active in Virginia, but more cities are desperate to get on the gravy train — and they’re willing to do whatever it takes. Even if that means lying.

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to install traffic cameras, citing bogus statistics to an unquestioning media. Even the Virginia Department of Transportation’s regional engineer joined with misleading statements about his department’s own findings. From NBC29:

According to VDOT, the cameras have been proven to reduce crashes by 42 percent, but they’re only successful if intersections are a good match.

Well, no. That’s actually the exact opposite of what the VDOT report found. We think it’s important to explain the statistical scam used to generate the “42%” figure which NBC29 obediently misreported.

The VDOT engineer selectively cited a made-up category called “red light running related accidents” out of the agency’s comprehensive 2007 study of every red light camera program in the Commonwealth (see for yourself). Why is it made-up?  Because the only types of accidents you’re going to find based on the accident forms used in the field are Angle, Rear End and Sideswipe with severities like Property Damage Only, Injury and Fatal. These accident types are recorded by showing where the vehicle is hit on a diagram. (View the official Virginia Accident Form in PDF). These categories are based in fact and are not subjective.

The “red light running” category is fake because it has a singular purpose: to exclude by definition rear end collisions. Take them out of the way and suddenly cameras look much better.

But you would never do that if you were honest in your concern about safety. There is only one question worth answering in evaluating a red light camera program: What was the overall effect? In other words, were there fewer injuries and fewer accidents, or more accidents and more injuries? When you use questions that cut to the bottom line, you find the VDOT report is very clear:

Based only on the study results presented herein and without referencing other studies, the study did not show a definitive safety benefit associated with camera installation with regard to all crash types, all crash severities, and all crash jurisdictions (page xv)

The cameras were associated with an increase in rear-end crashes. The EB method showed a significant increase in four of the five jurisdictions and a nonsignificant increase in one jurisdiction (Fairfax City)… the EB results suggest that the point estimate of this increase is 42%. A simple before-after comparison after normalizing by time and ADT suggested an average increase of 27% by intersection…. (page 48)

The cameras were associated with an increase in total crashes. Arlington and Fairfax County saw significant increases, Falls Church and Vienna saw nonsignificant increases, and Fairfax City saw a nonsignificant decrease. The aggregate EB results suggested that this increase was 29%, whereas a simple before/after comparison that controlled for time and ADT suggested an increase of 12% per intersection… (page 48)

The association of the cameras with angle crashes differed among jurisdictions, although a preponderance of test results suggested an increase… (page 48)

The cameras were associated with an increase in the frequency of injury crashes. Significant increases were noted in Arlington and Vienna, nonsignificant increases were noted in Falls Church and Fairfax County, and a nonsignificant decrease was noted in Fairfax City. The aggregate EB results suggested an 18% increase, although the point estimates for individual jurisdictions were substantially higher (59%, 79%, or 89% increases) or lower (6% increase or a 5% decrease). (page 49)

The Empirical Bayes (EB) method produces the most sophisticated results, which are summarized as follows:

  • Rear end accidents increased 42%
  • Angle accidents increased 20%
  • Injury accidents increased 18%
  • The total number of accidents increased 29%

More accidents. More injuries. Period.

Albemarle doesn’t care. Neither do Newport News and Fairfax City which joined Virginia Beach in thumbing their noses at state law by inking illegal per-ticket contracts with an Australian company, Redflex Traffic Systems, to outsource ticketing.

They don’t care about the law, they don’t care about the truth and they don’t care about your safety –  for one simple reason: It’s all about the money.


Setback for Maryland Camera Referendum

June 1, 2009

referendumThe effort to overturn Maryland’s statewide speed camera program came close but did not secure the number of signatures needed under the tight 30-day deadline. Although in the short term it looks like this means Maryland’s political class can proceed with the scamera cash grab with gusto, more careful observers will note that the petition is a wakeup call. An unfunded, volunteer group banded together using the Internet and get so many signatures in so short a time, finding 9 out of 10 people asked were willing to sign. Without the state’s irrational signature gathering limitations, regulations and dealines, the speed cameras would be gone. And the legislature knows it. Lawmakers who continue to ignore  the will of the public will do so at their own peril.

Here’s the official statement from Maryland for Responsible Enforcement:

Unfortunately, today was not a bright day for the citizens of Maryland; as they fell just shy of the required 17,883 signatures needed to bring SB-277 to Ballot Referendum with just over 16,000 signatures.

MRE would like to thank all like minded Marylanders who signed the petition and helped collected signatures. We want everyone to know your voices will be heard and we will use our lessons learned to assist citizens challenge speed cameras in their jurisdictions.

Over the past few weeks many Marylanders have expressed their utter disdain ranging from anger over it being another tax to concern over an increased big-brother 1984 police state.

Maryland is one of the hardest if not the hardest states in the union to pass a referendum. Sadly, this results in so many Marylanders being denied a voice in their government by not being able to hold their elected officials responsible for questionable and unpopular policy.

The burdensome state guidelines only guarantee the citizen petitioners a limited few weeks. This allows little time for people to express their concerns over a law. Even if Marylanders had submitted the correct number of signatures, the state would still omit 20-30% of the voter intent. By means of a strict process that if a middle initial was not used, the signature would be void.

During the final days of MRE’s efforts, many Marylanders reached out to us who had just learned about the petition effort and wanted to sign or help collect signatures themselves. Many more Marylanders told us they were in a busy time of the year but would do everything they could to help. With little money spent and a volunteer effort the
message was clear Marylanders do not want speed cameras and do not want more taxes and burdens in these troubling financial times.

Between the information the law requires you to collect, specifically the exact way the voter is registered, and the extremely limited time frame it would be a near impossible monumental task for anyone to succeed in.

We would like to again thank all those who signed the petition and helped collect signatures. You were all able to accomplish so much in so little time.

The fight is never over and our continued activism of Speed Cameras will continue.

Best Regards,

Justin Shuy and Daniel Zubairi
Co-Chairs
Maryland for Responsible Enforcement


Those Miraculous Accident Figures in Chevy Chase, MD

May 25, 2009

Chevy Chase VillageChevy Chase Village has claimed incredible safety results from their cameras. And I mean literally incredible. CCV officials told the Gazette that “Collisions in the village are down 70 to 80 percent” [source]. They have repeated similar claims to the press many times. “Where we used to average 12 to 14 collisions a month on Connecticut Avenue, we are now averaging about 3 or 4″[source].

The problem is that the Village’s own police reports, which report the number of accidents they responded to, do not uphold these claims. StopBigBrotherMD examined the monthly police reports posted to Chevy Chase Village’s website for a period of time before the speed cameras were introduced to the latest 12 month period of time
Before Cameras
Month : #Accidents Reported
Mar2006 : 10
Apr
2006 : 14
May
2006 : 9
Jun
2006 : 12
Jul
2006 : 14
Aug
2006 : 12
Sep
2006 : 11
Oct
2006 : 18
Nov
2006 : 10
Dec
2006 : 14
Jan
2007 : 3
Average : 11.545


After Cameras
Month : #Accidents Reported
May
2008 : 16
Jun
2008 : 7
Jul
2008 : 10
Aug
2008 : 10
Sep
2008 : 10
Oct
2008 : 10
Nov
2008 : 17
Dec
2008 : 16
Jan
2009 : 8
Feb
2009 : 8
Mar
2009 : 13
Apr
2009 : 17
Average
: 11.833

The average monthly number of accidents reported by Chevy Chase Village police for these periods of time were actually slightly greater now than before the cameras were introduced. Note that these numbers were for all of Chevy Chase Village, including Connecticut Ave. Accident rates naturally fluctuate and are subject to seasonal variations, so it may have been possible to find a short period of time supporting the safety claims of CCV officials (comparing the worst single month before the cameras to the best single month after). However the numbers from their police reports for any sustained period of time do not support anything remotely close to their claim that the section of Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase Village was seeing an average 14 accidents per month prior to using speed cameras and a 70-80% drop in accidents after they were installed.

Traffic fatalities were reportedly down 9% NATIONWIDE in 2008, attributed to the price of gas, with at least 42 states seeing marked reductions in traffic fatalities[source]. Most of those states do NOT use speed cameras. For the first half of 2008 traffic fatalities per vehicle mile reached the lowest level ever recorded up to that date.

Under Maryland’s newly passed Senate Bill 277, the authorization of speed cameras, local governments which use speed cameras will need to report back to the general assembly in 2012 about the success or failure of their programs. SB277 includes the use of speed cameras in workzones on “expressways” with “speed limits of 45mph or greater” which can be used “regardless of whether workers are present” (not that anyone would ever set up workzone cameras without workers). One study sanctioned by the UK government from 2001-2003 regarding the effectiveness of workzone speed cameras showed “No significant difference was observed in the PIA(personal injury accident) rate for sites with and without speed cameras[source]” However since SB277 sets no standard for measuring success, Maryland’s programs need not need to worry about failure and can all be “successful” since the agencies which control access to the data can choose any standard and present only that data that shows success. It also does not require localities to consider other alternatives for speed control, or demonstrate that speed cameras were actually the best solution.

A petition drive is currently underway to collect 53,000 signatures and force SB277 to a referendum, giving the people or Maryland the opportunity to accept or reject this speed camera expansion by a popular vote. However time is very short to gather the needed signatures, so please go and sign the petition right now.


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