WASHINGTON, D. C. (Wednesday, May 29, 2019) ––Approximately 864 bills and two resolutions were passed by both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly during the 2019 Legislative Session. This Saturday, June 1, 2019, is the effective date for new laws bringing more speed cameras to Indian Head Highway (Maryland Route 210), empowering the state to sic debt collectors on deadbeat out-of-state motorists who owe Maryland $102 million in outstanding and unpaid video tolls, and uncollected associated civil penalties; and for a measure making the maximum fine (up to $500) permanent for violations recorded by a school bus stop arm cameras
Toll Collection from Out-of-State Drivers
Out-of-state drivers racked up $17.5 million in overdue tolls and other fees along the Intercounty Connector (ICC)/MD 200 during a two-year period. Their days on the lam could end soon. In the near future Maryland will dispatch debt collectors in hot pursuit of out-of-state motorists that owe tens of millions of dollars in unpaid video toll transactions. Each year, on average, out-of-state drivers rack up about “$1.3 million in outstanding tolls and civil penalty debts” on Maryland’s toll facilities. As of this year, more than a half million, or 575,000, out-of-state drivers cumulatively owed a total of $102.2 million in outstanding tolls after traversing Maryland’s eight toll facilities without paying the required toll with cash or an E-ZPass®.
“Toll scofflaws beware. During the 2019 General Assembly Session, state legislators granted the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) the authority to summon and ‘sic’ debt collectors on deadbeat motorists and toll violators residing and registered in other states,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “They had presumed they had escaped the long arm of the law in Maryland. They can run, but now they can’t hide from their video toll indebtedness.”
“A motor vehicle incurs a video toll when the vehicle passes through an MDTA toll facility but does not pay the toll using cash or an E-ZPass®.” In a round-about fashion, the new law (House Bill 105) prohibits the state’s Central Collection Unit from collecting unpaid video tolls and associated civil penalties from out-of-state motorists. Like Charon the ferryman seeking “Charon’s obol” in Greek mythology, their proxies will.
If Maryland compiled the outstanding tolls acquired by out-of-staters into a stack of 102,000,000 one-dollar-bills, it would soar more than 6.21 miles high, and weigh just over 100 tons. Millions of dollars in unpaid tolls were incurred by non-residents entering the Intercounty Connector (ICC)/MD 200, where all tolls are collected electronically, and while crossing the Bay Bridge (US 50/301), and the Nice/Middleton Bridge (US 301). “Historically, MDTA and CCU have had difficulty collecting video tolls from out-of-state-violators, in part because MDTA lacks the enforcement tools it has for in-state drivers, such as suspension and nonrenewal of vehicle registration,” explains the explains the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. “Under the bill, MDTA plans to use an outside debt collection service to collect the out-of-state-debt.”
More Speed Camera Coming Soon to Indian Head Highway
It is at once one of the most dangerous roadways in the Washington metro area. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks calls the roadway “a death trap.” Seemingly star-crossed, Indian Head Highway has been plagued and haunted by fatalities, injuries and major vehicle accidents, including a violent rear-end collision in December 30, 2018 that claimed the lives of three young siblings, including 5-year-old twins and their 13-month-old brother. Their parents sustained severe injuries.
On February 18, a 59-year-old motorist from Waldorf was killed when his vehicle was rear-ended while he was stopped at a red light on Indian Head Highway and Berry Road. Approximately 66 traffic deaths, by some estimates, and hundreds of crashes resulting in severe injuries have occurred along the roadway in the 14-year period since 2007, calculates AAA Mid-Atlantic. Residents living along Indian Head Highway and community group, namely the 210 Traffic Safety Committee and the Indian Head Highway Area Action Council, have sounded the clarion call for more speed cameras along the roadway. The current speed camera situated at the intersection of Old Fort Road and Maryland Route 210 began issuing tickets on Wednesday, October 31, 2018.
As a result of the legislative process, House Bill 187 goes into effect Saturday, June 1, 2019. It increases the number of speed cameras from one to three in totality along a 13-mile stretch of Maryland Route 210 inside Prince George’s County. Advocates and residents had sought “the placement of seven additional speed cameras” along the roadway. State legislators trimmed the total to three. Residents are bracing themselves for the hard part: changing driver behavior on Indian Head Highway.
“In regard to all that has transpired in the legislative victory entailing the speed cameras, we will now focus on the cultural mindset of the driving public. This includes establishing a new paradigm for inculcating the essential thinking skills that foster safe driving behavior,” said Reverend Dr. Robert L. Screen, the lead facilitator of the 210 Traffic Safety Committee. “We are seeking to change the mindset of drivers along Indian Head Highway and trying to engender a traffic safety culture on the roadway. Our goal is grooming safe drivers who are conscientious, intentional, and purposefully deliberate towards the welfare and wellbeing of themselves and others in our driving environment.”
Indian Head Highway will become the single largest speed camera enforcement zone, spanning 13 miles from Interstate 495 to the Charles County line. The three speed cameras, slated to be deployed within weeks, will rove from spot to spot within that expanse.
“School zone speed cameras along Indian Head Highway, and in a total of 45 jurisdictions and localities across Maryland, operate only Monday through Friday between 6:00 A.M. and 8:00 P.M.,” explained Townsend. “Unlike those speed monitoring systems, the speed cameras on the high-speed sections of Maryland Route 210 will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The countywide speed monitoring system in Prince George’s County generated $54,709,704 in ticket revenue during the period from Fiscal Year 2013 to Fiscal Year 2018, including $6,894,036 in speed camera fine revenue in FY 2018. More than 75,000 vehicles traverse Indian Head Highway each day. Speed camera tickets will be issued to vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit by 12 miles per hour (MPH) or greater. Speed camera tickets carry a $40 fine. During 2018, the Prince George’s County Police Department “made more than 4,600 traffic stops and issued nearly 10,900 citations” along Indian Head Highway during various saturated enforcement campaigns. Through mid-April of this year, the Prince George’s County Police Department has “conducted more than 3,700 traffic stops and issued about 7,800 citations” along the checkered roadway also officially known as Maryland Route 210.
At least 47 fatal crashes occurred on Indian Head Highway (Route 210) from 2007 to 2017, according to crash data from the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA). “Under the bill, the Maryland State Highway Administration must, in conjunction with the Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation, examine the engineering, infrastructure, and other relevant factors determined to contribute to the overabundance of major vehicle accidents, injuries and fatalities on Indian Head Highway,” according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
In addition, the agencies must all “report its findings and recommendations on the most effective solutions to address issues to the Governor and General Assembly by May 31, 2021.”What is more, Prince George’s County officials have launched a “partnership initiative” to change the driving culture throughout Prince George’s County.
Penalties For Violations Recorded By School Bus Stop-Arm Cameras
On November 27, 2018, a seven-year-old girl was hit and left critically injured by a truck after she reportedly stepped off her school bus in Charles County, Maryland. “Investigators said the bus stopped with its lights flashing and cross arm out when the truck passed and hit the girl,” according to news reports. A person at the scene was hospitalized due to a panic attack, reports the Charles County Volunteer Fire/EMS. The incident occurred in Bryantown near Olivers Shop and Leonardtown Roads.
During its 2019 Session, members of the Maryland General Assembly opted to make permanent the higher maximum penalty for violations recorded by school bus stop arm cameras across the state. The maximum penalty is $500 for failure to stop for a school bus off-loading and on-loading students while the vehicle’s red lights are alternately flashing, explains the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
“In Maryland, school bus stop arm cameras are also deployed on school buses in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Washington County, and Frederick County. From the 2016-2017 academic year through the 2017-2018 school year, Montgomery County issued 50,993 school bus stop-arm camera tickets," Townsend explained. On the Virginia side of the Potomac River, school bus stop arm cameras are in force in Arlington Public Schools, Falls Church City, and Manassas Park City Schools. In addition to Maryland and Virginia, at least 14 other states have enacted school bus stop-arm camera laws.
During April 2018, “school bus drivers in Maryland counted 3,812 violations of school bus stop arms” in a single school day, according to the Maryland Department of Education. That was “well below the 7,011 recorded when the survey began in 2011,” the department observed. To make the higher penalty permanent, legislators voted earlier this year during the 439th Session of General Assembly of Maryland to repeal the sunset clause in the 2017 law, which was passed by the Maryland General Assembly during its session two years ago. The sunset clause was set to expire June 30, 2019. Now the higher fine regime is permanently engraved in the “tablets of the law” in Maryland.
The minimum penalty for school bus stop arm infractions is currently $250, and it could top out at as much as $500, at the discretion of the Maryland District Court, as a result of SB 0464. “No points are associated with a citation issued through the automated school bus camera program. The fine for a citation for the same offense issued by a police officer is $570 and three points are assessed on the driver’s license.”
Maryland Governor Lawrence Hogan has signed into law several key measures designed to improve public safety, including House Bill 707. Of note, the measure increases maximum penalties to ten years for repeated drunk and drugged driving violators convicted of the offense on three or more prior occasions, as well as on impaired drivers convicted of causing death or a life-threatening injury. The measure, championed by AAA Mid-Atlantic, goes into effect this fall. Hundreds of other new laws were passed during the 90-day Maryland General Assembly Session earlier this year, including a raft of transportation/motor vehicle bills, will also subsequently go into effect, including on Monday, July 1, 2019, Sunday, September 29, 2019, and then on Tuesday, October 1, 2019.
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