Study Scrutinizes Police Role in Traffic Enforcement

Maryland law entrusts traffic enforcement to its local police departments. To reduce major vehicle collisions and racial profiling, Montgomery County is considering  taking traffic enforcement away from the police and placing it in the hands of the county department of transportation.

According to a lengthy study by the Montgomery County Office of Legislative Oversight that was released July 27, a number of individuals and organizations hope to move Montgomery County police officers away from all traffic enforcement.

However, allowing DOT employees to enforce traffic  is currently illegal in Maryland. Recently, the Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis tried to change that. During the 2021 session of the General Assembly, members of the delegation introduced a bill to transfer operations involving speed, red light and school bus cameras from the police to DOT. But it did not pass.

The goals of changing who enforces traffic include promoting fairness and reducing bias, improving community safety and organizational efficiency, bettering safety across all modes of transportation and enabling Montgomery County to meet its Vision Zero goal of zero deaths.

If DOT takes on the job of traffic enforcement, it would not change the county’s use of speed, red light and school bus cameras “in any significant way”, according to the study.

If state law is changed so that county DOT staff could conduct traffic enforcement, “they likely would not undertake in-person traffic enforcement” as they are not sworn law enforcement officers. In fact, they they would not even want to perform in-person stops “due to safety consideration for the employees,” the study states.

Instead, the county DOT would consider dash-mounted cameras that record traffic code violations and then mail citations to drivers. This, too,  is currently  prohibited by state law. DOT employees would focus on enforcing safety-related laws rather than enforcement of violations that usually do not result in serious collisions.

However, on the downside, without in-person traffic enforcement, DOT would not have a way to stop impaired drivers and could not issue warnings as the automated cameras only issue citations. Under Maryland law, without police involvement, the county could not assess points to drivers’ licenses, which sometimes results in unsafe drivers losing their licenses.

The study found during Fiscal year 2019, the county issued 373,169 speed camera citations and 54, 572 red light camera citations. The 2019 speeding citations brought $16 million into the county coffers. In 2018, the county received $14 million.

As of 2020, the county had 434 speed cameras.

The study recommended the county council continue to fund Vision Zero and expand use of the automated traffic enforcement technology. It also suggested decriminalizing traffic code violations that normally don’t cause safety hazards, start an annual vehicle inspection program and “significantly curtail police officers’ use of safety equipment repair orders in Maryland.”

According to the study, the state owns only 17% of the roads in the county but more than half of the fatalities and serious injuries occur on state-owned roads.

The number of serious accidents remained almost constant in 2018 and 2019, going from 236 to 239. The number of fatal accidents increased in 2019, jumping from 28 in 2018 to 32 in 2019. The study didn’t deal with 2020 statistics as they were considered an anomaly due to the pandemic.

While most traffic enforcement is conducted in-person, the county police department has 32 officers specifically charged with automated traffic enforcement. Eight officers support an alcohol initiative and nine reconstruct collisions. 166 part-time civilian crossing guards on its school safety unit round out the force.

Police issued 112,659 warnings and 68.607 citations during traffic stops in 2019.

According to statistics from 2018, the three locations where collisions occur most frequently:

Colesville Road and University Boulevard East in Silver Spring – 44

Montgomery Village Avenue and Frederick Road in Gaithersburg  – 42

New Hampshire Avenue and Oakview Drive in Silver Spring -42

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