SALISBURY — Not long after the Salisbury City Council first began to move ahead with legislature that would result in traffic cameras in school zones, Wicomico County as a whole has decided to go in the same direction.
During a County Council work session Tuesday, Sheriff Mike Lewis, along with representatives of Red Speed Camera, was on hand to answer questions about the impact of traffic cameras in school zones.
While all of the council members expressed interest in the public safety potential the cameras provided, there were more than a few questions and concerns.
Councilman Joe Holloway noted two exemptions in the law that would allow certain drivers a form of immunity against the cameras. Because the cameras only take a picture of a car’s back license plate but not the driver, rental cars effectively cannot be ticketed by the cameras, regardless of how fast they drive through the school zone.
Holloway found this unfair; however, he was informed that a request for the car’s information and driver can be sent to the company it was rented from. If that company forwards the information back, then a ticket can be sent. Holloway was told that this is usually the case.
One other, albeit less conventional, immunity clause that the council worried over was the fact that the spouse of a deceased, formerly disabled veteran could not be ticketed by the cameras, provided the spouse was over 65 years old. While this seems like it would be a rare case, Holloway did want to point out it was still somewhat unfair.
Another concern of Holloway’s was how accurate the cameras would be. Lewis explained that there would be “continuous, ongoing evaluations of the operation.” Additionally, the council was told that Red Speed Camera checked each ticket issued by cameras four times.
Holloway still remained somewhat skeptical.
“If it goes through four checks, how come we hear about so many mistakes?” he asked, citing media coverage of tickets being issued to the wrong cars.
It was pointed out that those were the extreme minority of cases and that all of the successful tickets probably weren’t receiving media attention. Besides that, the ability to challenge tickets is an option, leaving impacted drivers a final measure to ensure the ticket was issued correctly.
A third policy that was questioned was the fact that cars have to be exceeding the speed limit by at least 12 mph before the camera activates. Lewis explained that the 12 mph is given as a grace to the driver to compensate for differences in speedometers and tire pressure that could affect a driver’s perceived speed.
“At 12 mph over, they know they’re over the posted limit,” he said.
A fourth and final concern was the hours of operation. Councilman Bob Culver questioned the need to have the cameras running during the summer when children weren’t in school.
However, Lewis argued that there were often events going on at the schools, even in the summer months and that, more importantly, the county should leave the cameras running just to get people into the habit of slowing down around schools.
“Our goal is to change driver behavior,” he said.
After hearing all of the input, the council decided to take the next step — a public hearing on the issue will be scheduled for the near future.