Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
Jurisdictions around the Washington region are installing sophisticated camera systems to detect — and fine — lead-footed drivers and red light runners. Automated traffic enforcement has polarized communities, prompting complaints, lawsuits and even vandalism. But local authorities insist that new high tech systems are beginning to change our driving habits for the better. Tech Tuesday explores how automated camera systems work and how these new devices affect our behavior on the roads.
- Lisa Sutter Program Manager, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Photo Enforcement program (DC)
- Charles Territo Vice President of Communications, American Traffic Solutions
- Thomas Didone Captain, Montgomery County Department of Police; Director, MCPD Traffic Division
- Anne McCartt Senior Vice President for Research, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
- John Townsend Manager of Public and Government Relations, AAA Mid-Atlantic
Traffic Cameras And Penalties By Jurisdiction
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Source: Insurance Institute of Highway Safety
How Red Light Safety Cameras Work
American Traffic Solutions is the private vendor that currently services red light and speed cameras in the District. The video and graphics below explain how the camera systems detect violations.
The Technology Of Red Light Cameras
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. It's technology designed to target red-light runners and lead-footed drivers. Across our region, speed cameras and red-light cameras are popping up along busy intersections and quiet neighborhood roads. You may know them by that sense of impending doom, a moment when you see the flash go off as you drive across an intersection, or when you realize you were cruising over the speed limit in an enforcement zone.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe anticipation that some time in the next few days a fine will be arriving in the mail. The camera systems work by capturing subtle differences in speed and direction using sensors buried in the tarmac or sophisticated radar detection. Many drivers absolutely hate these devices. But the key question is this: Does it actually make them drive more safely? While many devices, like cellphones and Bluetooth, end up creating distracted drivers, supporters say cameras are beginning to make us pay closer attention to the road.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThis Tech Tuesday, we're exploring the nuts and bolts of traffic cameras with Capt. Thomas Didone. He is the director of the Traffic Division at the Montgomery County Department of Police. Montgomery County concurrently operates both red-light and speed camera systems. Capt. Didone, thank you for joining us.
CAPT. THOMAS DIDONEGood morning.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Lisa Sutter, program manager for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Photo Enforcement Program. D.C. currently operates red-light and speed camera systems. Lisa Sutter, thank you for joining us.
MS. LISA SUTTERThank you. Good morning.
NNAMDICharles Territo is vice president of communications at American Traffic Solutions. That's a company that operates automated camera systems in 300 communities around the country, including Washington, D.C. and a number of surrounding jurisdictions. Charlie Territo, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHARLES TERRITOThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Anne McCartt is senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, IIHS. Anne McCartt, thank you for joining us in studio.
MS. ANNE MCCARTTThank you.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation. 800-433-8850. Do you think red-light cameras and speed cameras are leading to changes in our behavior on the roads? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, remember to use #Tech Tuesday, or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Later in the conversation, we'll be exploring how cutting-edge camera systems are designed, how sites are selected and whether studies are proving that these cameras are actually changing our behavior.
NNAMDIBut maybe we can start with a study with a sample size of one, a hypothetical public radio talk show host who gets popped for a $75 ticket for driving over the limit on his way home from work. He gripes about the ticket. He may use some choice language, inappropriate for public radio, and he may even harbor some suspicions that his local government is using the cameras as a sort of ATM to raise revenue from drivers.
NNAMDIBut in the weeks and months that follow, he notices changes in the way he drives. All of a sudden, he's losing that lead foot, and he's coming to a full stop at all stop signs. To what extent, Thomas Didone, is that reflective of your observations about public behavior in the wake of red-light and speed cameras?
DIDONEWell, I think it is quite reflective. We've seen that these cameras do work. They make people change behavior where -- because they're consistently out there, they don't have to take lunch breaks, bathroom breaks. And once they're in operation and they work consistently and you get that negative reinforcement, as all humans do, you respond to that activity. When you're going over the speed limit and you get the ticket, you want to change behavior, or you'll continue where you pay the fine. And once you get finished in seeing that behavior change, you want to change behavior, and it's consistent.
NNAMDIGive us a sense of the systems currently operating both in Montgomery County and D.C. Lisa Sutter, I'll start with you this time. When did this program start, and how do these programs work?
SUTTERWe started with red-light cameras in 1999, and we put 50 cameras around the city. And we saw at every single location we put the cameras an 80 percent on average decline in violations within the first few months, which is highly significant. That's a large part actually we believe resulted in a dramatic decline in our traffic fatalities over the past dozen years. We started speed enforcement in 2001, and we put up fixed-pole speed cameras in the middle of 2004. And we started portable cameras last year, and they've been very effective, same kind of results, 80 percent reduction everywhere we put them.
NNAMDIHave you notices a significant rise in public reaction since you started with portable cameras?
SUTTERI actually get a lot of support from the communities where we put them. They're very pleased to see the significant reductions in speeding. I've had comments about the improvement of the quality of life -- the thank God I don't have to run across the road anymore to try to get from one side to the other. And people who get tickets, I think, you're right, I mean, they do modify their behavior.
SUTTERUnfortunately, I think -- unfortunately, it takes a ticket sometimes to do that. We definitely publicize the fact that we have cameras. We publicize our speed limits. We post our sites online. So we really try everything we can to get people to know that we do use automated enforcement, and we're not trying to give out tickets. We really want to modify their behavior.
NNAMDIThomas Didone, how long has this -- have these programs been going on in Montgomery County?
DIDONEWe started with the red-lights in 1999, and we started with speed camera in 2006. And I agree with Lisa. You know, we evolved with utilizing the portable speed cameras, and that gives you the flexibility of moving the camera to multiple locations while at the same time having that same consistent enforcement I've talked about before. And that behavior change is, you know, coming in time.
DIDONEPeople still get the tickets. Our fixed cameras, unfortunately, still generate citations, and they haven't moved in over five years. So it's that reluctancy to change behavior over time that we're still dealing with, but overall, people get, you know, one or two tickets, and they do slow down just like you mentioned.
NNAMDICharlie Territo, these systems are supervised by local governments, but the actual nuts and bolts of installing, operating the cameras often falls on companies like American Traffic Solutions. Tell us about how your company fits in to this.
TERRITOSure. Our role is really to provide the technology. Violations are captured by our cameras. But in all safety camera programs and speed safety cameras throughout the country, violations are only issued by and after a law enforcement review. Our role is really the provider of the technology, and our goal is to give our customers the tools that they need to make their roads safer for the individuals that live in their communities.
TERRITOOne thing that we do find nationally is that nearly nine out of 10 individuals who receive a violation don't get a second. And I think that that really shows how significant cameras can be when you're trying to change someone's behavior.
NNAMDIAnne McCartt, roughly 700 jurisdictions across the country have some sort of automated enforcement. Do we know whether these systems are beginning to change our behavior outside of anecdotally? What does the research say?
MCCARTTWell, the research is really quite clear that whether speed cameras or red-light cameras, violations are reduced significantly, and crashes go down, especially serious injury and fatal crashes. One thing you see with camera systems as opposed to traditional enforcement is a much bigger what we would call a spillover effect. So when we studied red-light cameras, for example, we found that red-light running violations went down not just at intersections with cameras but at other signalized intersections as well.
MCCARTTAnd we studied the speed-camera program in Montgomery County, found the same thing that speeds went down not just on roads where cameras were posted but at other similar roads.
NNAMDIThe Insurance Institute for Highway Safety maintains a handy list of the mishmash of laws around the country. You can find the rules governing different jurisdictions and our area at our website, kojoshow.org. But, Anne, can you give us a sense of what the trend lines are, if you will?
MCCARTTWell, both speed-camera use and red-light-camera use have gone up, so now, there are more than 550 communities in the U.S. that use red-light cameras and about 112, I think, speed cameras. And I think often the attention in the media and the news tends to be on communities that may be taking programs down, but the trend is really strongly in the other direction. More and more communities are using automated enforcement.
NNAMDIAnything you can add to that, Charlie Territo?
TERRITONo. I think Anne is exactly right. I mean, I think as the technology has evolved, as digital and wireless technology has improved, cameras have been a much more efficient and effective tool for communities to use. And as a company, we've continued to grow each year. Last year, we put in more cameras than we ever had as a company, and this year, we'll put in even more than that.
TERRITOAnd so, you know, I think as technology has proven itself to be effective, more and more communities are taking a look at it and deciding that it's a great way to enhance their community policing.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, it's a Tech Tuesday conversation on red-light cameras and speed cameras and the technology behind them. We're talking with Charles Territo. He is vice president of communications at American Traffic Solutions, which operates automated camera systems in 300 communities around the country, including here in Washington, D.C. and a number of surrounding jurisdictions.
NNAMDIAnne McCartt is senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Lisa Sutter is program manager for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Photo Enforcement Program. And Capt. Thomas Didone is the director of the Traffic Division at the Montgomery County Department of Police. We go to the phones right now. We'll start with Edward in Rockville, Md. Edward, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDWARDHi. Yes. I was just noticing whenever I go to an area that's got red-light cameras, I find that people are often slowing down for the cameras, but then they speed up after they reach an area where the cameras have been, you know, are no longer there. And I think that, you know, the cameras do their job where they're placed, but for temporary cameras, you know, once the cameras go, people slowly realize, oh, the cameras are gone, so they start speeding up again. And I'm kind of worried that maybe the solution eventually will be just cameras everywhere.
NNAMDILisa Sutter, care to respond to that?
SUTTERWell, we see, for example, on Canal Road, where we put a portable recently that people used to kind of have a very strong jackrabbit right out of the gate at Arizona, all the way to -- down the road to the next stoplight, used to just speed like crazy speed demons. And now that we have a speed camera there, it actually has modified and moderated the speed along the entire stretch. And in fact, it's actually eliminated a lot of the gridlock that used to occur along that roadway.
SUTTERSo I think in some cases, I think that's kind of one of the urban myths around photo enforcement is that, you know, people only slow down where there's speed cameras. We don't actually see that in the District. We see that people -- we have enough of them around. I think people are trying to moderate their speed wherever they go, and that's really the idea, is we don't want you to slow down because you're going to get a ticket. We really would like you to slow down because it's the safe thing to do.
NNAMDICapt. Didone, same experience you've had in Montgomery County?
DIDONERight. We've identified that same experience what he's saying with the -- our fixed poles that people slow down just as they pass the pole and speed up. And that's why we use the portable cameras working with our fixed cameras down the road in our corridor approach so that, you know, people have to respect the speed limit, as we say. The law allows them a variance in Maryland of up to 10 miles an hour.
DIDONEAnd people have to understand is if they're going to go more than 10 miles an hour over the speed limit on a speed-camera-monitored roadway, then they're probably going to get a ticket because we mix and move these cameras so that we're going to try to combat that what he sees that people just slow down for the camera. So as we move the camera up and down and road with the portables, they'll have to respect it for many, many blocks, and we found out from looking at a European study that people it's just easier for them to drive slower, and that's the ultimate goal, safety.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Edward, thank you very much for your call. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Remember to use the #TechTuesday. Do you think red light cameras and speed cameras are leading to changes in our behavior on the roads? Charlie, American Traffic Solutions operates cameras here in D.C. and jurisdictions like Howard Country, Md. How do your systems detect something like a red light violation or a speed violation?
TERRITOWell, there are a couple of different types of technologies that we use. In some places, we have loop systems that are in the ground, that are able to capture vehicles that run red lights. There are other jurisdictions where we'll use...
NNAMDIWhat does that look like?
TERRITOIt's a -- essentially, it's wiring in the ground that actually has sensors embedded that can capture before and after a vehicle is running a red light. We also have wireless technology in some places in the ground that can be used to do the same thing, sensors that are not a loop, but they're actually -- look like little hockey pucks, I guess, for lack of a better word. And then we also have a wireless radar technology that can be used to not only capture speed but also capture red light runners. And really, what we're seeing is this evolving every day.
TERRITOMaryland actually has just passed recently, Virginia as well, another law that will allow cameras to be placed on school buses so that they can detect vehicles that run stop arms on school buses. And that's a new technology that we're unveiling as well using several jurisdictions already to capture individuals who run the school bus stop arm. And that's a very similar technology to a red light camera or a speed camera. It's our ability to capture an image of someone violating that law.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Tech Tuesday conversation on traffic camera technology and the use of traffic cameras and how they affect our driving behavior. If the lines are busy, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there, but you can try calling at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday. We're discussing traffic camera technology and how they affect our behavior with Capt. Thomas Didone. He is the director of the Traffic Division at the Montgomery County Department of Police. Lisa Sutter is program manager for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Photo Enforcement Program. Charles Territo is vice president of Communications, American Traffic Solutions, which operates automated camera systems in about 300 communities around the country, including Washington and a number of surrounding jurisdictions.
NNAMDIAnd Anne McCartt is senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The phone line seemed to be busy, so if you'd like get in touch with us, you may want to send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow.
NNAMDIThomas Didone and Lisa Sutter, you both oversee the enforcement programs in your jurisdictions, which means you assess the technologies that Charlie Territo just described for us of various vendors, and then you determine which systems are appropriate for your needs. What technological advances do you now find most interesting, starting with you, Thomas Didone?
DIDONEWell, I think they've -- as I said, measuring speed has been done, as Charlie said, through loop detection, through radar and through laser, and that's what we use as police officers every day in our job. We find that as the technology improves, they increase the opportunity. It gives us the ability to relocate them. The expanding of the portable camera unit is -- has been fantastic. It has the benefits of a fixed camera, but you can move it.
DIDONEAnd it works off battery operation, so when the power went out, the camera still work. So we like the fact that you can have the flexibility of putting the camera where it needs to be, to slow people down, to keep them safe. So I think the expansion of the portable camera units and using the new technology, whenever it becomes available, these companies incorporate into their system so we can all benefit.
NNAMDIMy understanding, Lisa, that there's technology available -- I don't know if you're using it yet -- that can detect things like sudden lane shifts.
SUTTERWell, we're not using that, but the things that have gotten much better in the last few years involve much higher quality video for enforcement. The communications, we're now working with 4G to be able to communicate and be able to actually view these as live sites, you know, so we can have real-life intelligence in the field for traffic and for policing. And, you know, just being able to get better shots of the tags, it's really improved the ability to enforce these violations.
NNAMDILet's say I'm a lead-footed driver who happens to go by one of these cameras at 41 miles an hour in a 30-mile-per-hour zone. First off, how does the camera actually know how fast I'm going, Charlie?
TERRITOWell, the camera gives us the radar technology. It can identify the speed of the vehicle. We actually have a radar technology that can monitor the speed of up to 25 vehicles at one time. So we know the speed and who is violating the law and who's not. The cameras are set based on what the local jurisdictions tell us with regards to when they flash or when they snap a picture. There are some jurisdictions that use an 11-mile-per-hour threshold. There are other jurisdictions that use cameras in school zones that have a much lower threshold of maybe 5 miles per hour during a school zone.
TERRITOSo we work with the individual communities to decide at what speed the cameras will capture a violation. You know, something else that when you talk about technology -- one way, our cameras work is that they only are capturing -- have the ability to capture violations during the red phase. So if you enter an intersection and the light's yellow when you enter the intersection, no camera violation will be taken. During the amber and the green phase, the cameras are actually wirelessly downloading the video and the captured still images of violations so that they can be reviewed.
NNAMDIAnd I don't know how often you hear this, Anne McCartt, but this is clearly a skeptic email we got from Danny, who says, "How can I confront an accuser that is an electronic device which may be set to reflect whatever the owner/lesser wants to create? How do I know that what is charged is actually what happened? Who polices the cameras and the jurisdiction? For all I know, these could be nothing more than slot machines set to hit every number in a matrix."
MCCARTTWell, I -- probably Lisa and Capt. Didone can talk about this too, but I believe all communities would have a process in place that allows a driver, when they get a ticket in the mail, to go look at the image. And I think some now have video so that you can actually see the video as your vehicle moves through the intersection. So I think actually the evidence for a driver is a lot better than it would be with traditional enforcement.
SUTTERYeah, I think, you know, the question is whether you're using radar which is a very long-established, well-accepted speed measurement device or LIDAR. It works by sending out basically a beam, and it detects the difference in the wavelength when it bounces off of an object and it comes back to the receiver. And it's been used for, you know, since it was invented, basically, during World War II. So it's very well accepted as a speed measurement device.
SUTTERThere's been some confusion on some people's parts about striping on the road being some secondary measurement of the speed that has nothing whatsoever to do with the speed measurement. We all use radar and LIDAR to detect speed. And as Anne said, we do actually put information on our tickets to let people go to the website and view their images, view the video if it's available. And they can come and, you know, adjudicate the ticket. They always have that option.
NNAMDIOn to Andre in Port Tobacco, Md. Andre, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANDREOh, hello. I think we can talk to the technology here as a measure of improving safety, but I think the larger issue is the fact that there's a collision between the industry and the local government that prevented the public as a safety-enhancing measure where in fact companies like American Traffic Solutions charge fees to the local government, and it's a great revenue-generating source for the local government. So what really happens is, you know, the driver will slow down for the camera and pick up speed 200 yards after.
NNAMDIWell, we've -- that point has been made before by a previous caller, and what our panelists have essentially said is that may be true in some cases. But it seems that, Anne McCartt, you can reiterate, it seems that overall it does lead to a general slowing down of drivers with the exceptions of those like our caller, Andre, described.
MCCARTTYeah, that's right. Well-designed studies have found that camera enforcement leads to reductions and violations not just at the sites where cameras are placed but over a wider area, and the same is true with crashes. In studies we've done that have looked at crashes reduced from red light cameras, for example, we found city-wide effects. I think the more a program is publicized, the more likely you're going to see these community-wide effects.
NNAMDIThank you very much for you call, Andre. And now joining us by telephone is John Townsend. He is manager of Public and Government Relations with AAA Mid-Atlantic. John Townsend, thank you for joining us.
MR. JOHN TOWNSENDThank you for having us, Kojo.
NNAMDIAAA Mid-Atlantic, John, has been skeptical about the increased use of automated enforcement. You have used the Freedom of Information Act to get data on how much money the city, that is Washington, D.C., is bringing in through automated enforcement. You've raised questions about the relationship, as our previous caller did, and the incentives that exist between the city and private contractors. Are those your main concerns?
TOWNSENDOur main concern is traffic safety and the safety of motorists, pedestrians and cyclists in the city. We raised these questions because of our concern about the revenue stream, as some of your callers have talked about. But beyond that, we think that the District has this system that works. And what your panelists have been talking about this morning is the fact that we see a reduction in traffic crashes and in fatalities and accidents in the District. And that votes bodes well for the program.
TOWNSENDAnd as Anne was saying a moment ago, in jurisdictions like the District of Columbia, where you have speed cameras and red-light cameras, speed decreased across the city. And we've seen that in the District of Columbia. And we've seen it in Montgomery County. Montgomery County has an excellent program. The District of Columbia has an excellent program. Motorists are concerned about the revenues generated by these programs, but that comes with the territory.
NNAMDIAllow me to raise that question with some of our panelists because right now, most jurisdictions contract with private companies to run these systems. Some people obviously feel that this relationship is problematic because the contractors are for-profit, interested presumably in maximizing their profits. Presumably the number of tickets they issued, they'd also like to see maximized. Government say they're interested primarily in safety and cutting down on speeding. So what happens if people actually stop speeding?
NNAMDIA recent study by the consumer group U.S. PIRG cited examples of cities and vendors getting into legal disputes over their programs when cities moved to terminate their programs or ease up on enforcement. First, I'd like to hear from you, Capt. Thomas Didone. What happens if you try to cut down in the contract that says, no, we had a contract that's supposed to last for this amount of time and we will take you to court?
DIDONENo. We were OK. We managed the contract with safety in mind recognizing this program work, and the reduction in violations do not cause a conflict -- contract issue. I think what's critically at point here is people have to recognize that when the police department manages this contract, there's that sense of integrity that gets incorporated into. In both the D.C. and the Montgomery County programs, we managed every aspect of that program.
DIDONEThe vendor does not make a single decision where to place it, the equipment, what violation gets send out. We even make sure we test the equipment before and after it's operational, just like we would if we were running the radar gun ourselves just to make sure it's accurate and working correctly. The police department management brings the integrity in the program. And it's critically important that when these violations occur and the vendor -- when the person gets the citation that they recognize that the integrity of the agency is there.
DIDONEWhen you don't have a law enforcement agency monitoring this contract, then it is open to that that what happens with profit. Now, we require our vendor in Montgomery County to provide the equipment and the service. That's millions and millions of dollars upfront. They get a per-paid citation. So if this case is an adjudicated as finding guilty, then they don't get paid. So there's no incentive for them to do so. And we put great demands on them where they earn every penny of their service fee that they're provided.
DIDONESo as long as the fee is reasonable, the program is well-managed and it's based by a law enforcement agency who is -- has integrity and focus on safety, these programs are very successful and have a great integrity.
NNAMDIWell, there are two aspects of that I'd like to look at. Critics say that locations tend to be chosen not necessarily based on safety but on the amount of revenue they're likely to generate because people are speeding. Of course, people will say, obviously, if people are speeding, it's not a very safe location anyway. But I like to hear you respond to that, Lisa Sutter, about the whole notion that cities are really -- this is really a cash cow for cities or jurisdictions.
SUTTERWell, I think what people don't understand about the way government procurement works is you set up your program well over a year in advance with your budget. You say, you know, right now, we're planning and looking at our FY14 budget planning so you're -- you actually allocate specific funds to manage your program, completely disassociated from 100 percent whatever fines are collected. And remember, it's not we're raking in the revenue. It's -- people are paying fines because they have violated the law.
SUTTERAnd that's what is actually driving the money that comes in. So for a District resident who says, OK, if someone violates a law in the District and they pay a fine and that money goes into the general fund and then I don't have to have my taxes raised or have some kind of user fee myself, for them, it's a win-win. They get better safety in their streets, and they get the fines paid by the violators. We have a very high payment rate for our violations.
SUTTERThe places where we put our enforcement units are targeted primarily by the citizens. They call us in and ask for enforcement in their neighborhoods, and we go out and evaluate it. And that's where we put these sites.
NNAMDIYou wanted to add something to that, Thomas Didone?
DIDONEYeah. And Mr. Townsend, who was on the advisory board, when we set up every location Montgomery County that's established, we have set factors, an open criteria. We look at the amount of speeding on the roadway, the traffic volume, the amount of accidents on there, the pedestrian proximity and others, things that can be hit, the design of the roadway. And we have an open-above-core criteria in which citizen through the website can request consideration.
DIDONEWe do an evaluation of that. And if it meets our criteria, it gets included in the program. So that way, it's above board and it's based on safety as the sole factor.
NNAMDICharles Territo, I mentioned earlier that there have been some disputes in other jurisdictions out west, in particular between the companies that operate these automated camera systems in local jurisdictions that decided that they wanted them removed because safety has improved. People say, look, you're in this for profit, so the more, the merrier. As far as you're concerned, you don't like the idea of having them removed. How would you respond?
TERRITOYou know, we have set contracts with all of our customers, and just as we have certain obligations under those contracts, we also expect that our customers will hold up their end of the contract as well. That being said, you know, the anecdotes, I think, greatly outweigh the real truth here. I'm not aware of many situations at all in our company where we've been involved in those types of disputes. You know, what I would say is there is no revenue generated if people don't run red lights and people don't speed.
TERRITOSo, you know, not every community generates revenue from these programs. You know, the real value of a red light camera or a speed safety camera is being able to prevent injuries, collisions and accidents that result from red light running and speeding.
TERRITOFederal Highway Administration estimates that the cost of a traffic-related fatality is about $6 million. I mean, they estimate that the cost of a traffic-related injury is about $126,000. That can be crippling on a small community if there are several fatalities or injuries a year. And so if a camera can prevent just one fatality, they're really worth their weight in gold.
NNAMDIJohn Townsend, what do you think about the financial aspect of this? And that is there are some people who, as I said earlier, believe that sites are selected based on their, I guess, potential for generating revenue. Is that a concern of AAA?
TOWNSENDIt is a concern. And people who say that, you know, if you get the ticket, that's why the fines are being generated and that's why you're raking in millions and millions of dollars a year. We know in the District, for example, that just in the last fiscal year, more than $60.9 million was generated from these tickets. What is a great concern to most motorists would be what the contract cost would be.
TOWNSENDAnd when you look at the amount of revenue earned by the contractor or the contracting cost, you're looking at 21 million and beyond in the last fiscal year. Now that's according to the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. So if you look at the fact that the District collected 60 million, and then when you look at operating expenditures and transfers and adjustments, you're looking at a total of 26.1 million for the last fiscal year that raises questions about the contracting process and the contract itself and whether there should be more transparency with that.
TOWNSENDCmdr. Didone talked about the ticket situation in Montgomery County. And as I said, I think both systems have integrity, but some motorists are concerned about the fact that the vendor in Montgomery County gets about 40 percent. And Maj. Didone or Capt. Didone actually said that the cost of the equipment is so expensive. But I think -- at least AAA thinks -- that to remove this question, then perhaps the city should purchase the equipment.
TOWNSENDFor example, if you made $60 million off these tickets last year, you could hire an additional 400 police officers in the District. But that's not the point. The fact of the matter is that the equipment is expensive. We had a integrity problem in the District several years ago with the equipment when we had so many malfunctioning cameras. And so they switched the contract. And those are the types of things that motorists are concerned about and other jurisdictions such as...
NNAMDII guess that is a policy question that I'm not sure we can answer at this table, and that is whether or not the jurisdiction should purchase the equipment themselves. I suspect taxpayers may wanna have something to say about that. I don't know if that's ever come up in discussions in D.C. Lisa Sutter?
SUTTERWell, D.C. started its program using a financial model for procuring the equipment that was very standard at the time. It was a no-risk solution for the government. The vendor basically took on all the risk for providing the equipment, setting everything up, per the jurisdiction's directions. And if people -- if the system worked, if tickets were issued, if people paid them, then the vendor was paid back through the fines collected from those violations.
SUTTEROver time, we, as a jurisdiction, switched to a different model where we do pay our vendor a flat, fixed fee per month for each type of equipment, based on the type of equipment. Our financials are actually totally open. It's in our budget. We budget our funds every year, including all of the operating expenses for running the program, which includes money to pay overtime for the police officers, which is actually our largest budget item.
SUTTERWe don't take any officers out of the streets to do this enforcement. So I think it is transparent, and I believe that just different models work for different jurisdictions.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. John Townsend, thank you very much for joining us. John Townsend is the manager of public and government relations with AAA Mid-Atlantic. You can join the conversation by sending us an email to kojo@.wamu.org, a tweet @kojoshow -- remember to use the #TechTuesday -- or by going to our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Tech Tuesday. We're talking traffic camera technology and its effects on our driving behavior. We're talking with Charles Territo, vice president of communications at American Traffic Solutions, which operates automated camera systems in a number of communities around the country, including D.C. and surrounding jurisdictions. Anne McCartt is senior vice president for research with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
NNAMDILisa Sutter is program manager for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's Photo Enforcement program. And Capt. Thomas Didone is the director of the Traffic Division at the Montgomery County Department of Police. We got this email from Gene in Silver Spring, Md., who said, "I live in the Longmead Crossing community of Silver Spring, and we have had a huge problem with speeding on the road, Homecrest Road, leaving out of our neighborhood.
NNAMDI"That road is intimidating for driving, running, walking or biking. The speed limit is 25, and I've had numerous incidents where drivers have tailgated me, berated me, given me the finger or crossed the double-yellow lines to go past me when I was going between 30 and 35 miles per hour. I talked to many others who use this road, and they have had the same experience.
NNAMDI"Montgomery County installed speed cameras on this road maybe six weeks ago, and the change has been dramatic. The traffic on this road has slowed down significantly since the cameras appeared, although I have still seen it flash. I now feel comfortable riding my bicycle on this residential road." And I suspect some people would say, well, that's what it's all about. Here are -- here is Jim in Fort Washington, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMThanks, Kojo, and a very interesting program. Just a couple of things to put on the table. You -- what you said about the financial motive is just absolutely clear. In D.C., those tickets yield a charge of $125, and it doubles if you don't pay them within a certain period of time. In Maryland, by statute, they're only $40 and they don't double. But the -- that's one issue, and it shows the clear motivation that D.C. has in running the system that they have.
JIMNow there's another -- one of the gentlemen made the statement that all these tickets are reviewed by police officers to determine probable cause. In the last -- in the legislature that just ended back in April, the Maryland legislature, there was a bill that was -- that I actually saw that said the city of Gaithersburg wanted permission to not have to use police officers that may have a salary of 60,000 instead of a clerk that might pay -- be paid 25,000 to make those determinations. I don't know what happened to the bill, but it shows the kind of pressure these communities are trying to foist off on the legislature. The...
NNAMDIDo you have a specific question?
JIMWell, I'm just laying a couple of issues out. The last one is this, and that's the nature of this contract that they have. There have been cases, including College Park here in Maryland, where those contracts have been canceled because they didn't make enough money for the companies involved. And there was also -- there were also reports of contracts where the company worked on a contingency-free basis.
NNAMDIJim, we're running out of time, so I have to ask you, what would you see as the alternative? All of the arguments that we have heard in support of this technology has said, look, we are seeing a reduction in fatalities, and we are seeing an improvement in the way drivers behave on the road. What would you suggest as an alternative? Simply abandoning them?
JIMNo, no. My -- I mean, this is a legitimate technology if used properly. But what you really should do is take the profit motive out of the municipal corporation if it's in Maryland or out of the District, which is a form of a municipal corporation. Take the profit motive out of it and make it a safety issue.
NNAMDIWell, that they're saying is that it already is a safety issue. But I'd like to offer a couple of alternatives that we got from others by way of email. Diane writes, "I'd like to know why not more emphasis be placed on green wave timing of traffic lights to control speed, such as done very well on 16th Street Northwest? As it were, I find myself speeding at times so as to not catch every single traffic light on red, but I'm perfectly happy to travel at posted speed when it means smooth sailing through the signals." Lisa Sutter.
SUTTERWell, I think -- we work very closely with our Department of Transportation just to look at engineering solutions to control speed and to manage red-light situations before we actually put enforcement up. And basically, green-light timing works in one direction, but it won't work in the other direction when you're traveling opposite. So they try to time it going in or out of the city. So I think most well-run programs actually take that into account.
NNAMDIAnd here's this from Mike in Baltimore, "In Europe, they use modern traffic calming to slow cars down. This includes adding trees and more plantings. But, incredibly, it also removes speed and other enforcement signs, lights and even curbs and more pedestrian-friendly areas. Drivers seeing no signs and actual people not separate from the roadway slow way down. Europe smartly use human psychology behavior, encourage walking and biking but not hard- cop, camera-based traffic control.
NNAMDISlowing cars down should be a design problem, not law enforcement. The result would be greener, nicer, safer, pedestrian-friendly streets for all," says Mike in Baltimore. I don't know if anyone around the panel cares to comment, but what we're talking about here is a fundamental shift in our entire culture, it seems to me. Anne?
MCCARTTYes. I agree with a lot of those points. In fact, we think more intersection should be converted to roundabouts. Unfortunately, there are some intersections where that's not possible. You're still gonna have people running red lights, but, you know, a roundabout is actually a much better, more efficient way to reduce crashes. So, you know, I think the caller has a good point.
NNAMDIHere is Brooke (sp?) in Falls Church, Va. Brooke, your turn.
BROOKEYeah, good afternoon, Kojo. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
BROOKEYeah. I would like to make -- first of all, thanks for taking my call. And the comment I want to make is that all your panelists today are, you know, from the law enforcement, saying that these camera tickets are issued for violators of speeding, red-light speeding, passing and, you know, speeding. But this is the point I wanna make, most speed limits that are out there today are outdated. All these institutions should carry out a study that shows, OK, we have X amount of speed limits on X amount of roads and these are outdated.
BROOKEChange those first before you start issuing tickets. If you're issuing tickets on speed limits made in 1970s, '50s and '40s, people are not breaking the law. It's just the speed limit is outdated. And if people had the time, they would contest these tickets. It's just -- paying the violation does not mean people admit it. It's just that, you know, it's inconvenient for them to go to court. Thank you.
NNAMDIAnne McCartt, the notion that the speed limits that we currently see are outdated.
MCCARTTWell, there may be places where speed limit should be higher or lower. But there's a myth that because we have better cars and better highways, we can go fast, and that's not just the case. Cars protect us a lot better than they used to, but if you think about crash test, we -- our institute crash test automobiles at 35, 40 miles an hour. So, you know, when you get at a higher speed on a vehicle, even the safest vehicle on the road is not gonna protect you well when you're going at a very high speed.
MCCARTTSo I don't really accept that. I don't think there's a lot of evidence for the argument that we can go a lot faster because we have safer vehicles and highways.
NNAMDIBrooke, thank you very much for your call. These systems have been challenged in courts around the country, and, for the most part, they have been judged to be constitutional. But some civil liberties groups worry about how all this data is being used. For example, if Montgomery County or D.C. has the capability to capture images of all license plates that cross a certain intersection and it stores that information, some civil liberties groups worry that data could end up being used for other purposes down the line. What kind of protections exists right now? Captain Thomas Didone.
DIDONEWell, I think that's a valid question to be concerned about data, the way the law is written in Maryland, that we can't openly share the data, it's not necessarily public information. And, you know, in building with the homeland security background and intelligence data, we do manage it, we make sure it doesn't get released, and it's used for the exact purpose, law enforcement purpose that it's required to use. We own our data. The vendor may be managing it for us, but in our contract, it is our data, and we can retain it and protect it as we should as a law enforcement agency.
NNAMDICharlie Territo, how do we know that the vendor is not retaining the data that it should not retain and then using it for some other purpose, marketing, whatever?
TERRITOWell, you know, as the major said, we -- our customers all control their data. As a vendor, you know, our contracts very clearly stipulate whose property that data is, and so, you know, we take very seriously that issue of personal privacy and of ensuring the care and custody of that data. I will say that, you know, there are several police departments that have been able to use footage from red-light cameras or footage from speed cameras to solve other crimes. It certainly has a benefit beyond just capturing red-light violations. And we're starting to see more of that every day.
NNAMDILisa, what ultimately happens to this data after I've been issued my ticket?
SUTTERWell, we have it in our databases, and we use it for adjudication purposes. For example, if a ticket is paid after a period of time, it typically gets archived. And nothing really else happens with the data. It's just used for the purposes for which it was designed.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Chris in Washington, who says, "The reasoning given by the law enforcement agency for installing such monitoring technology is purely public safety. I'm wondering if the D.C. Police Department also supports the notion of installing public monitoring equipment in residential neighborhoods that have a known elevated rate of violent or drug crime.
SUTTERWell, there is a program for that called ShotSpotter, and we have CCTV cameras. And essentially, what we're trying to do is make everybody safer.
NNAMDII'm afraid we're just about out of time. Lisa Sutter, thank you for joining us.
SUTTERThank you for having me.
NNAMDILisa Sutter is program manager for the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department's photo enforcement program. Thomas Didone, thank you for joining us.
DIDONEThank you for having us.
NNAMDICapt. Didone is director of the traffic division at the Montgomery County Department of Police. Charlie Territo, thank you for being here. Charles Territo is vice president of communications at American Traffic Solutions, which operates automated camera systems around the country. Anne McCartt, good to have you here. Anne McCartt is senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Thank you all for listening. Be careful out there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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