- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Local motorists may start noticing mobile speed cameras mounted on the roadside in eight county school zones as part of a new monitoring program aimed at reducing vehicle speeds and making the streets safer for students, pedestrians and other drivers.
The two cameras, which are programmed to snap photos of any car traveling 12 mph or more above the posted speed limit, are set up at William B. Wade Elementary School in Waldorf, each monitoring one lane of Smallwood Drive, said Lt. Col. Joseph C. Montminy Jr., chief assistant sheriff at the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
Soon the sheriff’s office will have a third camera and plans to rotate all three between eight — eventually nine — different school zones.
As of now, the cameras will move back and forth between Smallwood Drive at Wade Elementary; Leonardtown Road at Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf; Indian Head Highway at General Smallwood Middle School in Indian Head; Berry Road at Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School and Mattawoman Middle School in Waldorf; and Marshall Corner Road at Dr. James Craik Elementary School and Maurice J. McDonough High School in Pomfret.
The department intends to add Port Tobacco Road at Archbishop Neale School in La Plata to the rotation in the near future, Montminy said. The department got permits to place the cameras along state roads last week, he added.
The two current cameras began operating July 11. For the first 30 days, the owners of vehicles caught by the cameras will get a warning notice in the mail, but from then on they will receive a $40 citation.
The citations will not be reported to insurance companies and violators will not have points added to their driver’s licenses. The sheriff’s office reviews all photos taken by the cameras before issuing citations.
Those who receive a citation either may pay the fine or contest it in court. If the vehicle owner fails to do one or the other, the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration will be notified and the owner’s registration will be flagged, preventing renewal of the vehicle’s registration.
“It’s pretty straightforward. If I can slow people down around schools and reduce the potential of crashes, that’s all we’re trying to do,” Montminy said. “If I can break even and cover my costs, I’m a happy camper.”
While the cameras — which record the date, time, location and speed of an offending vehicle — will move among school zones, signs warning motorists about the cameras have been permanently placed at each of the eight schools. Montminy said the cameras, about the size of blue post office collection boxes, are visible from the road.
He stressed that the program differs from the one in Montgomery County, the only jurisdiction in the state that can put speed cameras anywhere. The sheriff’s office can only put the cameras in school and construction zones, the latter of which Montminy does not anticipate getting any cameras in the future.
“We’re not doing this just to write people tickets,” he said. “It’s a school zone and people should be slowing down. ... You’d be amazed by the number of parents that are dropping off students at any school. It just creates a lot of traffic.”
Per state law, the cameras will only operate between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. If school is canceled or dismissed early for weather or other unexpected reasons, the cameras will stay on, Montminy said.
He added that the cameras will enforce the regularly posted speed limit, not the reduced speed limit that is in effect when the signs’ lights are flashing, just like in Howard County, Montminy said. For instance, in a school zone with a regular 35-mph speed limit but a reduced speed limit of 25 mph, the cameras will only catch motorists traveling 47 mph or faster, even if the reduced speed limit is in effect.
To enforce the reduced speed limit would require more equipment capable of photographing both the offending vehicle and the reduced speed limit sign, but the department could not afford the extra costs, he explained.
Each week a contractor will change the cameras’ batteries, service them if necessary and move them to a new location if told to do so by Montminy, he said. For this reason, the cameras are likely to remain in each location for at least one week, but could remain there longer, he added.
The program is being administered in conjunction with the Howard County Police Department, the first local police agency in the state to have automated enforcement cameras, Montminy said.
Any photos taken by the Charles County cameras will be sent to a regional automated enforcement center operated by Howard County police, where they are processed and sent back to the sheriff’s office for approval.
If approved, the citations are printed and mailed from Howard County, Montminy said.
The sheriff’s office pays the Howard County Police Department a set fee each month, Montminy said. Since Howard police manage the red-light camera programs of a dozen local jurisdictions, it was less expensive to join its partnership than try and manage the Charles County program in-house, he added.
“I could not afford all the administrative costs,” Montminy said. “It’s very efficient. We could not afford to do this on our own and manage it otherwise.”
Montiminy said he would not sure how much the cameras would cost per month until he started receiving bills for them, but estimated that each of the county’s 14 red light cameras, which have been in operation for more than a decade, cost more than $2,600 per month.
Montminy cited the success of the red-light camera program in reducing right-angle collisions at posted intersections in expressing his confidence in the speed cameras, but said he has an “out” if the new program is not self-sufficient.
“I can’t imagine that it wont pay for itself, but if it doesn’t we’ll cancel the program,” he said.
Montminy said any residents with questions about the program can call the sheriff’s office at 301-932-3519 or submit them online at www.ccso.us or on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page.