Red-light camera tickets up in Montgomery County

GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Red-light camera tickets are up nearly 300 percent since 2012 in Montgomery County, according to new figures obtained by WTOP.

In the 2012 fiscal year, Montgomery County issued 22,616 red-light camera tickets.  In 2014, it issued 63,537, and it’s on pace to issue another 65,358 this year.  Red-light camera tickets carry a $75 fine, higher than those for speed cameras.

“The technology for the red-light cameras that we had in place was failing.  It was only generating or capturing 10 to 20 percent of the violations it observed into actual violations.  There was a big dip (in 2012) because we had a six-month period where the cameras were not in operation,” says Montgomery County Police Capt. Tom Didone, who runs the county speed and red-light camera program.

The newer cameras have “newer technology that captures 80 to 90 percent of the violations that it identifies. We also expanded the number of cameras from about 35 to 50,” adds Didone.

Like Prince George’s County, the new cameras allow Montgomery County to issue tickets for right turns on red without stopping.  Few would argue that blowing straight through a red light is acceptable, but the right turns are much more controversial.

Opponents of the violations point out that slow right turns where the driver almost stops, nicknamed a California Stop or Rhode Island Roll, do not pose as much a safety risk as straight red-light violations.  Although few would disagree that someone making a right turn on red without stopping or slowing at all probably should get a ticket.

“Right turn on red (without stopping) is the highest percentage of violations that you have in any community,” says Didone.

He argues that people are cognizant when a light turns from green to yellow and red, but are less aware of stopping before making the right turn on a red.

As with Prince George’s County and the City of Laurel, Didone says Montgomery County is judicious about issuing such tickets.

“If the person attempted to stop, they hit their brakes, they slowed down to 3 mph, they’re creeping through the intersection — we’re not going to issue a ticket,” says Didone.

“I’ll tell you right now, I cannot run 17 mph.  If a car is going 17 mph through an intersection and never stops, they’re going to get a ticket,” he adds.

Several jurisdictions use 13 mph as a benchmark for speed into the right turn on red.  Prince George’s County declined to provide their benchmark because it doesn’t want to promote the idea that you can turn right without stopping at a red light, but such a benchmark does exist there too.

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