Study: Traffic Cameras Can Be Bad Deals; Red Light, Speed Cameras Can Raise Revenue, but Don't Always Increase Safety

The Capital
Megan Poinski

Cameras that take photographs of motorists running red lights and speeding - currently located in 41 communities statewide - can be bad deals for the cities and counties that install them, according to a new report.

The study by Maryland PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) goes through many of the issues that states and communities have had with the traffic cameras issuing citations - and costing both motorists and communities dearly, the report concludes.

"It looked at whether or not communities that put up cameras have the public's interests at heart, or whether they are looking for revenues first and are signing contracts forfeiting decisions about public safety to companies," said Jenny Levin, a state advocate for PIRG, which is based in Baltimore.

In 2009, the General Assembly passed a law that allows counties and municipalities statewide to install the cameras to catch speeders in school zones and construction areas. A petition effort to bring the bill to referendum was unsuccessful.

The cameras, which have cropped up across the state, have been controversial (there are a handful of red light cameras in Anne Arundel County and officials in Annapolis are planning to use speed cameras this year). Grassroots groups, including Stop Big Brother Maryland and Maryland for Responsible Enforcement, exist to point out the issues that arise due to use of the cameras. Each jurisdiction that decides to use the cameras is able to decide many of the details, like where the cameras will be placed, how citations will be issued, and which company will provide them.

Speed and red light cameras, PIRG's study states, are often used as ways for areas to get more revenues in bad economic times. They essentially shift enforcement from police officers to automated devices, and are seen by opponents as contracting out traffic cop work to private companies.