One Prince George’s legislator’s attempt to extend the operation of county speed cameras to nights and weekends is drawing criticism from opponents who say the cameras are intended to aid school safety, not generate revenue after school hours.
Currently, state law limits speed camera operations to 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday in school zones.
Prince George’s Bill 302-14, currently up for consideration by the Prince George’s County House Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, would allow for extension of operation hours only in Prince George’s County.
The legislation would affect speed cameras operated by the county as well as municipalities within Prince George’s. The bill would also allow Prince George’s and its municipalities to charge late fees for fines not paid by the citation deadline.
The Maryland Annotated Code, as currently written, contains no provision for charging late fees for speed camera violations.
Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville, the bill’s sponsor, did not return multiple phone and email requests for comment by press time.
Ron Ely, founder and editor of the motorist watchdog group Maryland Drivers Alliance, which reports on speed camera programs around the state, noted that speed cameras were sold to the public as an issue of school safety.
Under current law in Prince George’s, speed cameras are to be located within the boundary of an established school zone.
In the county, speed cameras may also be placed on the grounds of a college or university or within one-half mile of a college or university in high-traffic areas associated with the institution.
“When speed cameras were approved statewide in 2009, I predicted that some lawmakers would try to whittle away the restrictions over time,” Ely said. “Someone has apparently concluded that they could make more money if they were allowed to issue citations at 5 a.m. on a Sunday.”
Maj. Robert Liberati, commander of the Prince George’s Police Department automated enforcement division, said the county has 72 speed enforcement cameras, which it rotates between 150 school zones.
Liberati said net revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013, were $7.35 million, and are estimated to drop about $1 million in the current fiscal year.
“The public is now slowing down in these school zones, and that in itself is a success,” Liberati said.
Marianna Martindale of College Park said the bill is evidence that speed camera programs are about revenue, not safety. She said she would have no problem with speed cameras if they were used responsibly to ensure safety around schools.
“Expanding the hours that these cameras are in effect will do nothing to improve safety and serve only to supplement already high taxes and to line the pockets of camera companies and the politicians whose campaigns those companies support,” Martindale said.
John Mathew Smith of Laurel said speed cameras are currently overused as a revenue generator by the county and municipalities, and expanding their times of operation would only make things worse.
“It’s obviously unwarranted, and to expand it beyond its current hours is ridiculous,” said Smith, who ran for Laurel City Council in 2013 on a platform that included revisiting the city’s speed camera program.
Typically, the county delegation will vote on the bill before it comes before the General Assembly. A hearing date for the bill has not yet been set.