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Police question College Park speed cam's fairness (Video)

Friday - 8/16/2013, 5:03am  ET

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This photo came with John Bressler's ticket for going 42 mph in a 30 mph zone -- causing confusion for Bressler since the 40 mph sign is clearly shown. (Courtesy of John Bressler)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A speed camera in College Park, Md., is so tricky, even police are calling its fairness and placement into question, and a WTOP investigation has uncovered some serious concerns.

John Bressler contacted WTOP's TicketBuster after he received a ticket at 3300 Metzerott Road last month.

"My first thought was, 'Isn't that a wooded straightaway that's 40 mph?'" says Bressler.

"I went back and, checking the photo I got, and you can see, plain as day, in the photo, the 40 mph speed limit sign. The ticket says I was driving 42 mph."

The problem is that while the 40 mph sign is visible from the naked eye, the speed limit remains 30 mph until drivers reach the sign. The camera enforces the lower limit in the final feet before the speed limit officially switches over.

WTOP took a video on Metzerott Road between St. Andrews Place and the speed camera to document what drivers experience. The issue only affects westbound traffic as drivers exit College Park and enter the Adelphia jurisdiction.

The speed camera is located 165 yards from the nearest 30 mph sign, but only 40 yards from the higher 40 mph sign.

"When they hit the 30 mph, they are to continue that 30 mph until they hit a new speed limit sign," says Carol Terry, spokeswoman for the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation.

Terry wants drivers to understand that legally you cannot speed up until you physically cross the new sign. The DPW&T is responsible for the signage on Metzerott Road because it is a county road. The actual operation of the speed camera falls on the City of College Park.

"We sent our staff out, and after looking at the signs, they found that the signs and the placement all met the requirements," says Terry.

However, John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic believes this camera should be removed immediately because it is confusing to drivers. He cites the Guidelines for Automated Speed Enforcement Systems in School Zones from the Maryland State Highway Administration.

"The guidelines say that sites should not be established within a speed transition zone. This is a speed transition zone because the speed limit bumps from 30 mph to 40 mph less than 40 yards from the camera," he says.

Two independent speed camera officers who run programs outside Prince George's County both watched the video and tell WTOP that they agree the camera is in a speed transition zone.

Even College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows used the term when talking about the camera with WTOP.

"I think the issue of where the other sign is placed in the transition is certainly worth looking at," he says.

Two officers outside Prince George's County tell WTOP that they would not place a speed camera at a similar location in their jurisdictions. Both requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about other Maryland jurisdictions.

"It's very important to have your speed camera locations to be perceived as being fair. Having a camera within view of a sign where the speed limited increases may be technically legal, but it is not perceived as being fair. I can understand why some drivers would be upset," says one officer.

"I would agree that this camera being less than 150 feet from the 40 mph speed limit sign is unfair and probably not good practice," says the other officer.

"What I would do is move the camera back about a 100 or 150 feet farther east, so it's not so close to the 40 mph. Then I believe it would be fairer."

Fellows tells WTOP that he and the city council didn't really think about the issue when they authorized the program in 2010, but will reevaluate it based on WTOP's investigation.

"Because you raised the issue, I promise we will have a discussion because I want to hear what our staff says and I want to watch your video. I cannot say what we'll do," says Fellows.

One of those staffers is City Manager Joseph Nagro. In an email to WTOP, Nagro makes a similar legal argument to Terry, saying "the speed limit signs are not confusing."

But even Terry says the Prince George's County DPW&T does not consider the issue closed. She says they will discuss whether there is a solution that could satisfy everyone, such as moving the 40 mph sign farther west.

Both agencies will likely have a deeper discussion in September.

Meanwhile, Bressler tells WTOP he will go to court to fight the speed camera ticket.

"Honestly, it's frustrating because it feels like they are just playing a 'gotcha' game," he says.

If you think you're the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us your case - along with documentation - to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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