What About Maryland’s Speed Camera Law?


criminalHow does Maryland’s speed camera law work?  Are speed cameras legal in Maryland?  Can you challenge speed camera tickets?

Speed cameras in Maryland are a hot button legal issue now. They treat ordinary drivers as hardened criminals without the benefit of human oversight or intervention.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering several bills that would change how they are operated.  Most of this uproar is in response to Baltimore City’s admission that they gave out over 350 speed cameras to innocent motorists, including one that was standing still at a red light!  Clearly this technology is not perfect, and that may cost you money.

We will explain how the speed camera law works and what limits are placed on their use.  We will tell you where the cameras are located, whether or not they are legal, and explain how you can challenge a speed camera ticket if you get one in error.

Background on Maryland’s Speed Camera Law

Maryland is one of 9 states that allow speed cameras.  Maryland’s law was passed in 2009 and allows speed cameras in school zones and work zones on expressways.  (Montgomery County allows the cameras in residential zones, but no county in Southern Maryland allows that.)  Your local jurisdiction has to pass their own law authorizing them in before they can be installed.  Charles County did that last year, and so did Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County.  As far as I can tell, St. Mary’s County has none yet.

How Maryland’s Speed Camera Law Works

You must be going at least 12 miles per hour over the posted speed limit to get a ticket.  After that, the law is different depending on whether it is a school zone ticket or a work zone ticket.

For school zones:  The law requires the local jurisdiction to publish notice of the location of all school zone speed cameras on their website. You can see the locations in Charles County here. The law also requires a sign that notes you are entering a school zone, what the speed limit is, and notifies you that a speed camera is there.  Tickets can only be given from 6 am to 8 pm Monday to Friday.

For work zones:  These are mobile and only set up in work zones on controlled, limited access highways.  There location is published on the Maryland Safe Zones website, but they rotate and change regularly.  There is a requirement of a sign to warn you.  These signs are larger and easier to see than those for school zones.  The signs have a digital reading of your speed flashing below the actual speed limit.  You can get a fine in a work zone 24 hours a day, whether work is taking place or not.

The penalty for all speed cameras is $40 for each violation and no points.  (Red light camera tickets are $75 per and no points.)  The companies operating these cameras generally get paid per ticket, a practice that some have said may encourage errors.

Recent Problems with Speed Cameras in Maryland

The issue is hot and heavy in Annapolis due to recent scandals involving erroneous speed camera tickets.  There are several bills before the Maryland legislature to change how speed cameras work.  All are in response to the Baltimore City scandal where hundreds of innocent motorists got speed camera tickets erroneously.  Baltimore City and Xerox Corporation both admitted they made mistakes in issuing tickets.  When forced to review their citations, Xerox admitted a 5.2% error rate on 7000 citations. That means 364 motorists got a ticket for doing absolutely nothing.  One of those cars was completely motionless and stopped at a red light!

Baltimore City made $19 million off of speed cameras in 2012 alone, and $48 million since the law started in 2009.  Other counties have made a lot of money too, but less than Baltimore.  Yours truly has “contributed” to Prince George’s County once due to a speed camera.  (And twice to DC, where speed camera tickets are much higher, which really aggravates me.)

How to Challenge a Speed Camera Ticket in Maryland

So far, the speed cameras are legal and constitutional.  Nobody has challenged them as being unconstitutional yet, at least not that I know about.

However, you can challenge a speed camera ticket by claiming you are innocent.  If you were not the one driving, you must provide a sworn statement that you were not driving the vehicle, along with corroborating evidence.  For details, see the State Highway Administrations FAQ page at roads.maryland.gov.  Choose the FAQ about work zone cameras since it has more detailed information.

You can also request a trial in District Court, just as you can with any speed ticket.  There is a form at the bottom of your citation which tells you what to do if you want a trial.  You will have to show up in Court with evidence of your innocence.  I do not know of many who have been successful at this defense, and most people don’t think it is worth $40 to contest a ticket.

One attorney in Montgomery County (Robin Ficker) was successful in getting his speed camera ticket dismissed, but that was because he argued the camera was not in a residential zone.  Montgomery County is the only county that allows speed cameras in residential zones.  The rest are restricted to school zones, so you cannot likely use his same defense in your case.

If you don’t pay the fine, it will be a major headache.  Your registration will be suspended, additional fines and penalties will be imposed, and the State Central Collection Unit will come after you.  Believe me, you do not want to fail to pay one of these tickets no matter how angry it makes you.

My Opinion on Speed Cameras

I don’t like speed cameras.  I think they amount to a user tax on the highway system.  But unlike regular speeding tickets issued randomly by police anywhere, it is hard to argue that speed cameras in specific places (like school zones) don’t work.  They do slow people down, mostly because of the sign warning you it is there.  It is also true that $40 is not horribly painful on the average person, and it is much less punitive than those $100+ Washington DC speed camera tickets you can get.

I would definitely like to see more oversight by government authorities to make sure the tickets are legitimate, and I would ban the practice of paying a company per ticket, which is motivation to get it wrong.  I would also like to see better signage before a speed camera in a school zone.  The purpose is to make people slow down in a school or work zone, not play “gotcha” and fine the citizens.  A bigger sign would serve that purpose, as well as serve to warn you of the upcoming danger so you have only yourself to blame if you are forced to make a “contribution” to your local government.

For More Information

If you hate these speed camera tickets and want to read more information, there is an organization called Stop Big Brother Maryland which is very against them and has a lot of interesting material.  If you like speed cameras, the State Highway Administration’s website and their Safe Zones Maryland website do a good job of defending them.  Google any of those terms and you can find them easy enough.

Next Steps

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