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AAA Clashes with City, Optotraffic Over Speed Cameras

AAA Mid-Atlantic challenges accuracy, legal placement of cameras in College Park.

When it comes to the speed cameras in College Park, AAA Mid-Atlantic said it’s about making money for the city and camera producer Optotraffic.

“They’re not being used primarily for safety,” said Lon Anderson, staff director of public and government relations of AAA Mid-Atlantic at a press conference held Wednesday.

But the city maintains that the main purpose for the cameras is to make the roads safer, and that they have succeeded in doing go.

“The purpose of the City’s Speed Enforcement program is to slow down drivers and improve public safety,” according to a statement released by College Park City Manager Joe Nagro.

According to city data, there were 3,412 drivers caught in College Park driving more than 12 miles per hour over the speed limit in the first week after the cameras were installed. In the 12th week, there were 591.

At Wednesday’s press event, AAA Mid-Atlantic and motorists challenged the accuracy of the cameras used, as well as the legality of the placement of at least one of the cameras.

Location

State law allows speed cameras to be installed within the grounds of an institution of higher education or within a ½-mile radius of the grounds of a building or property used by the institute of higher education. The speed camera in question is located at 3300 Metzerott Road, near the University of Maryland’s Wilson H. Elkins Building.

The law also requires that “motor vehicle, pedestrian or bicycle traffic is substantially generated or influenced by the institute of higher education.”

This is not the case with the Elkins building, Anderson said, which serves as an administrative building and no classes take place there. He said that the fact there are no sidewalks at that location indicates that the area is not even meant for pedestrian use.

“Any pretext that we’re protecting students or whatever is bogus,” he said.

But the city argues that the lack of sidewalks, causing people to walk and bike in the shoulders of the road, is even more reason to install the camera there.

Accuracy

Two motorists also spoke at the press event, challenging the accuracy of the Optotraffic cameras. Richard LaDieu, who drives a truck for the University of Maryland, said he presented data collected by a car chip to prove a speed camera on Paint Branch Parkway incorrectly cited him for driving over the limit. He said the judge dismissed the citation.

Another motorist, Will Foreman, said drivers who work for his Eastover Auto Supply company in Oxon Hill, have received 60 citations generated by speed cameras. He superimposed photos captured by the speed cameras to argue that the vehicles in question could not have traveled as fast as the citations claim.

But The Diamondback reports that Mickey Shepherd, senior account manager at Optotraffic, said this is not an accurate method to check the camera’s accuracy, because the photographs don’t factor in the camera’s trigger delay.

AAA Mid-Atlantic said that Optotraffic receives 40 percent of the revenue from the speed cameras.

“Based on all the information we have, the Optotraffic cameras used in the city are accurate,” the city’s statement read. Prince George’s County Police Officers review the citations and verify the daily camera self-calibration, according to the city’s statement.

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“What we are seeing is a nightmare unfold,” Anderson said.

Lee Havis August 19, 2011 at 11:08 AM
The City has no credible evidence that the speed cameras do anything but collect revenue. Is it possible that city officials are actually believing what they are saying about "slowing" traffic? Speed limits are arbitrary anyway, and have little relationship with accidents. Attention to road conditions, age/drugs of drivers, these are more relevant. And setting arbitrary speed limits is just a symptom of a long process of over-taxation and excess government that reduces quality of life, except maybe for those politicians that get more money from citizens to play with for their control to enslave the general population.
Wm Hanna August 19, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Speed cameras that "catch" drivers going more than ten miles over the speed limit are clearly a plus. Speed kills, as someone once said. But even without deaths or injuries, speeding cars impose stress upon other drivers, and of course pedestrians. Maybe some cameras on the Beltway will "encourage" drivers not to driver 80 or 90 mph.
Peter Teuben August 19, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Mr. Hanna uses weak arguments. Speed kills even at 10 mph. What kills is reckless driving, and differentials in speed (like the 80 or 90 on the beltway). I bet that 99% of the people who got a ticket on Mezerott honestly didn't deserve it. Going 42mph at that location used to be just about legal (see below). But one should congratulate the city of College Park on their sneaky way, no doubt taught by the experience of Optotraffic, on where to locate the camera best for revenue, not for safety. The starting location of the 40mph was CHANGED for the purpose of the speed camera on mezerott. I have verified that with google maps, and you can actually look on the backside of the 40 mph sign and see the stamped dates of installment. The camera on rt.1 was quickly moved down 1/2 mile, perhaps because they found out it didn't create enough revenue and was too obvious. Again, sneaky, they moved it INTO town, now warning the drivers much later about their high dangerous speeds. Shame again on the city of college park!!! Luckily they can't do that on Mezerott, that's 100 yards before the 40MPH speed increase :-) (2nd part of reply coming below)
Peter Teuben August 19, 2011 at 05:36 PM
No, if this was really for our safety, and all those millions of dollars of investment to build this speed camera would have been better used if the violator also got an immediate feedback from the system (they exist already)about their speed. But no, now you continue to drive 10 mph over speed, endagering the lives of everybody on mezerott road, for the next two weeks until you get something in the mail. Heck if I remember what I was doing on that road at that time. I honestly go with the flow, that's in my opinion the safest (speed doesn't kill, differential speed does). Shame on the system that created this and was never intended to be run this way. I sincerely hope we all drive at the speed limit and bankrupt optotraffic, but I'm sure they'll find another way tax us.
Peter Teuben August 19, 2011 at 06:58 PM
Now that i'm in my College Park ranting mode, another very very cute way how the city made sure that maxed out on income is their phasing in of the cameras. Camera #1 was placed on Paint Branch Rd, close to metro. Accidents have happened there, so that's a good spot. That was on/around Oct 15. Then they have to issue warnings for 30 days until they can start ticketing for real. On Nov 15 they then deploy 3 or 4 cameras,but they don't have to issue warning tickets on the other new cameras in town. A nice feature of the law that allows that that extra crucial month where you get the extra income. Again, warnings would have been doing safety a far bigger service. With this, you get all the locals against you. In Chili there was such an uproar about how they deployed speed cameras, they were voted out by the citizens.
Stowe Davison August 21, 2011 at 12:40 PM
Driving on and walking across Paint Branch Parkway is much safer since the speed camera was installed. Previously, cars would often go over 50 mph on that road. Drivers on Rhode Island Avenue now stay closer to the legal limit; it is far easier to make left turns on to Rhode Island and to cross it in the cross walks. The cameras make driving and walking safer in College Park. If they bring in additional revenue from speeders, so much the better. The alternative would be more police patrols at greater expense, or more reckless driving that would cause more accidents, injuries, and traffic jams. Let's install more of these cameras, and remove the restrictions on their use. They improve safety.
Lee Havis August 21, 2011 at 03:51 PM
Stowe: I wonder how you conducted your research to reach the conclusions you do. Did you hire a team of traffic "experts", skilled in statistical measurement, and have them record the relative speed of car drivers through this space? Did you isolate this "speed" variable, for example removing the other variables that may have some pertinence to "lower speed" or perceived "safer" driving? For example, other signs and walk-way with pedestrian light signal were installed recently. Is it possible that these immediate external devices are bringing the drivers' attention to that particular crossing. You are embracing a sneaky hidden camera, that only notices "speed" violations two weeks after the alleged "speeding" occurs. As stated elsewhere, who can concievably remember how fast they were going at that particular location at that time? The scameras are all hidden - that's the whole idea, which I think you haven't yet quite figured out. It's to "hide" the picture taking to "catch" people unawares. I think you must have such a degraded view of people to think that they intentionally drive in a dangerous and thoughtless way. Your "alternative" of reckless (no longer just "speeding" mind you) driving if there is not a police-state secrete system of catching people, points to justification for all sorts of intrusion into private lives. That's not the type of College Park living that I want.
Peter Teuben August 21, 2011 at 04:36 PM
I'll say it again, I'm all for safety as well, but we need to get the law changed that requires a feedback to get at that safety level that they advertise. The research that shows that speed cameras have improved safety appears to be as diverse as the medical journals telling you drinking coffee is bad for your health (it's statistically insignificant). I was watching an explanation of a PG county officer explaining that adding two errors of 1 km/s each would result in a 2 km/s error. ok, admittedly that's not as intuitive, but for those who didn't know this, the answer is not 2, but is 1.4 (the square root of 2). So some College Park official already claiming it has increased safety and reduced fatalities makes me wonder.
Peter Teuben August 21, 2011 at 04:37 PM
Ah, my background showed up, i meant miles per hour there, not km/s, but the numbers are all the same of course :-)
Geoffrey Atkinson December 28, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Well this post is rather after the fact, but I can say that I used to work for the company that owns Optotraffic. A few of the engineers work on projects in both companies (they are locate din the same building). I myself never worked on Optotraffic projects, but my office mate did. Around this time in 2011 Optotraffic managers came rushing in asking my office mate if he had any idea why the system "might be" issuing false positives. My office mates response was, "I thought we fixed that last year."

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