NMA E-Newsletter #126: So Much For Precision

Maryland drivers are unfortunate. Some jurisdictions in the state have contracted the services of Optotraffic, a company that touts the precision and accuracy of its red-light and speed cameras.

Optotraffic notes that it uses “space technology” – a term that sounds like it was taken straight out of 1960s or 70s advertising – in its camera systems to help detect traffic violations.

Almost from the time two years ago that the Maryland General Assembly approved the use of speed cameras in and around school and construction zones, Optotraffic photo tickets have raised the ire of local businessmen and vehicle owners alike.

Through the modern technology of Optotraffic cameras, drivers of buses, large trucks and even recreational vehicles have been cited for traveling at improbable speeds in excess of 50 mph shortly after turning corners and heading up steep inclines.

Will Foreman, a small business owner with a fleet of company trucks, has been served with over 40 speeding tickets by Forest Heights, a Prince George’s County community that employs the Optotraffic cameras. He has been fighting technology with technology by using Optotraffic’s photo evidence for his own defense.

By superimposing the two photos provided by the camera company into one image and comparing their respective time stamps to a common stationary point, Foreman has gotten a dismissal of some of his tickets. (Others are still being contested.) In those successful cases, he was able to prove to the court his trucks were not exceeding the speed limit, contrary to Optotraffic’s “evidence.”

Back to that space age technology. The Optotraffic system utilizes two laser beams, each one pointed at a different fixed location on the road. The distance between those two locations is known and the time it takes a vehicle to break one beam and then the other is measured by the Optotraffic system. The vehicle speed is then calculated by dividing the distance traveled by the time measurement.

This is the basic description of a VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder) system. For a VASCAR system to determine speed accurately, the time measurement over the predetermined distance must be precise and the distance between the fixed points equally so.

Here’s the thing: The Optotraffic laser sensors focused on those two fixed points are mounted on the tops of separate 32 foot tall poles. The poles have been videotaped swaying in the breeze, which of course kills any chance of obtaining meaningful measurements.

There is more — much, much more — to this story. StopBigBrotherMD.org, managed by a NMA member, has done some tremendous reporting. If you are interested in following developments, check out that site.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!