Ordinary Vans Hide Speed Cameras


A Montgomery County “Safe Speed” van catches vehicles going over the speed limit on Article Avenue in Rockville. –Elissa Britt

A Montgomery County
A Montgomery County “Safe Speed” van catches vehicles going over the speed limit on Article Avenue in Rockville. –Elissa Britt

Speed cameras are thought to be easy to spot: three stationary poles holding the radar, the flash and the camera. However, many drivers do not realize that cameras also exist in portable and van forms, which can be hard to notice.

Montgomery County has 56 fixed sites for the pole cameras. There are also 30 portable cameras that look like a rectangular box, and some are colored green to blend into the background. Additionally, six cameras are placed in vans parked along the side of roads.

While many people think these van cameras are a new addition, they were actually the first camera system used in the program. Lt. David McBain of the Montgomery County Police Department said van cameras the same as portable cameras are deployed. “[The van cameras] do a great job and can be moved easily,” McBain wrote in an email interview.

Signs are posted along all roads that have or could have cameras, and all locations are posted online.

Senior Lauren Goldstein was caught by a van camera coming back on Baltimore Road from Rockville Town Square. “I had no idea it was there, and even when I saw the flash I was still confused,” Goldstein said. “Every time I drove past after that, I would look around for the camera. I had no idea it was in a van until someone told me.”

These discrete cameras are bringing in revenue for the county, but people are questioning if they are really doing their job decreasing speeding. Senior Joey Lynch feels making them hidden defeats their purpose.

“The point is for people to see the cameras and slow down, making the area safer. By making them hard to see, people are going to speed right through them. The county gets the money, but that place is still dangerous because people are still speeding,” Lynch said.

However, tricking drivers does not seem to be the police department’s intent. “The speed program was designed for safety concerns and focus on driver modification,” McBain said. “The department does not hide the cameras.”

Maryland state law requires that before a camera becomes active, its location must be published in a newspaper. Signs saying “photo enforced” are then put up in the designated areas. The cameras are placed strategically based on where there is a history of speeding or places with many pedestrians.

According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, in the first six months of 2013, 58 pedestrians were killed on public roadways in Maryland. This in-car speed camera program is in place to decrease that number.

These cameras enforce speed limits in residential areas with a speed limit of 35 mph or less and in school zones with any limit. The cameras catch motorists traveling at least 12 miles over the speed limit and those drivers are issued a citation of $40.

Camera enforcement began in 2009 to slow down drivers, especially in areas with lots of pedestrians. For this reason, some of the earliest cameras, like the ones outside RHS, were installed into school zones. Cameras operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week except in school zones where they only operate five days a week.

The 92 stationary and circulating cameras are doing their job of catching speeders. The number of citations from speed cameras has decreased steadily since the camera program started, according to Capt. Paul Stark in a video produced by County Cable Montgomery.

“It has changed the way people in Montgomery County drive,” Stark said in the video.