Prince George's speed cameras issue 13,173 tickets in first month

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Local,Maryland,Transportation,Crime,Ben Giles
Prince George's County has issued more than $500,000 in speeding tickets in the first month of its new speed camera program.

Officials have mailed 13,173 citations worth $40 each to motorists from its 14 cameras since the program started on Sept. 20, or more than $527,000 in fines, according to a police spokesman.

The early figures far outpace that of Montgomery County, which issued 40,000 tickets over the first six months of its mobile speed camera program back in 2008.

Prince George's County still lags the District -- in recent figures obtained from the city, 19,454 tickets were issued in April, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic auto club.

The details
Prince George's County
Fine: $40
School zones only, operating Monday through Friday
14 mobile cameras
Montgomery County
Fine: $40
Residential areas operating 24/7 and school zones operating Monday through Friday
60 fixed-site cameras, 16 mobile cameras
District of Columbia
Fine: $75 to $250
School zones and deadly stretches of road
19 fixed-site cameras, 55 mobile sites

The District's record high for one month of tickets is 64,008 in September 2009.

However, D.C. cameras ticket drivers for traveling as little as 1 mph over the limit -- in Maryland, drivers can be ticketed only when caught traveling 12 mph over more over the limit.

Prince George's officials have ambitious plans to expand its program, which currently operates 14 mobile cameras in 12 school zones throughout the county.

By adding six cameras to its fleet per month, officials plan to have 72 cameras stationed throughout the county in a year, according to Maj. Robert Liberati, head of the police department's forensic services division.

Critics say that means more fines are coming for drivers, despite objections to Optotraffic, the contractor hired by Prince George's County to implement its speed camera program. "There's still questions about the legitimacy and accuracy of the speed cameras in Prince George's County," said John Townsend, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "It's not a lot of tickets, but it's just the beginning."

Optotraffic has been a fixture in court defending the accuracy of its cameras after The Washington Examiner first reported buses being ticketed for absurd speeds on local roads. Liberati defended the accuracy of Optotraffic cameras, noting that the police department tests each camera on location before it begins issuing tickets.

Cameras are monitored and calibrated every day, he said, and they're already having a positive effect.

On the 7500 block of Adelphi Road, cameras caught a high of 94 speeding motorists on Oct. 4. Less than two weeks later, 10 drivers were caught speeding in the school zone.

Critics also point out that speed camera cameras are a way for cash-strapped governments to bring in quick cash. Optotraffic gets 37 percent from each ticket, while the county gets the remaining 63 percent, or $25.20.

The county so far appears to be operating its program with few hiccups. One recent problem: The cameras accidentally ticketed drivers on a Sunday, although the county operates the devices in school zones only on weekdays.

All tickets were voided and fines returned, according to Liberati.

But Townsend said it's only a matter of time before the problems AAA has seen in jurisdictions within Prince George's County begin to reveal themselves.

"Those problems will begin to show eventually," Townsend said. "They're there in the smaller Prince George's County municipalities, and I've seen nothing the county has done to assuage those concerns. Unless you've got the public's confidence in the system, it's compromised."

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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