Mahendra Desai of Laurel said he has not been caught on camera exceeding the 25 mph speed limit on Oxford Drive since the speed-enforcement devices were installed a few months ago, but he knows the consequences of driving too fast through his Laurel Lakes neighborhood.
“They charge $40 per violation,” said Desai, 63. “When you are passing through, you see the flash ... so you get indication that you got a ticket.”
As drivers become more familiar with the speed enforcement cameras — which take a picture of the license plates of vehicles traveling at least 12 mph faster than the speed limit, resulting in a citation for the vehicle owners — Laurel officials say the program that began in November 2010 and has since expanded to more locations is changing driver behavior across the city.
“Laurel High School is why we started the program, because there were a lot of documented speed violations for that school zone,” said Laurel Police Department Chief Richard McLaughlin. “Within six months, we saw a startling change.”
McLaughlin said he knows drivers are slowing down because he has seen the number of tickets issued by speed enforcement cameras drop every year since the program was first implemented. He said 53,750 tickets were issued in the first six months of the program during fiscal 2011; 62,139 were issued during the program’s first full year in fiscal 2012; and 24,635 were issued the following fiscal year. There have been 15,959 tickets recorded so far for the most recent fiscal year that began in July 2013 and ended in June 2014 (figures for May and June of this year are not yet available).
There are six speed cameras across the city and two decoy boxes that look identical to the cameras but do not have the devices inside. In addition, the city has two portable and two permanent speed displays that show drivers how fast they are going.
The city is using $156,657 in revenue from speed cameras to replace seven police cars that have become “uneconomical” based on mileage and maintenance costs, said Paul McCullagh, director of the Public Works Department. He said the city regularly replaces cars in the police department’s fleet of more than 60 vehicles.
“The primary purpose is to improve safety,” McCullagh said of the cameras, adding that speed cameras can only be placed within a half-mile radius from a school and the revenues must be used for public safety projects. “We anticipate a decline in those revenues over the years just because people are becoming safer in their driving habits.”
Gross revenue from the speed enforcement program for fiscal 2014 (minus June figures, which were not yet available), came to a total of $939,754, said Michele Saylor, director of the city’s budget and personnel services. The numbers were down from $1,563,480 in fiscal 2013 and $2,512,285 the prior fiscal year.