More than a year after Baltimore City Department of Transportation officials flipped the switch on two new speed cameras on Interstate 83, car crashes have significantly decreased, a Baltimore Banner data analysis found.
The city-controlled “Grand Prix,” as some call it, due to the way some people drive it, connects Baltimore to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It has long bedeviled area drivers with its winding curves, lack of lighting and unruly motorists. The city’s I-83 speed camera initiative, which kicked off last year in an effort to slow drivers on their way in and out of the city, had shown early anecdotal success at reducing speeds. Fewer tickets have been issued than city officials expected.
But it’s been unclear whether the two cameras — one positioned northbound, the other southbound — have influenced drivers. Some experts who study driving psychology and traffic-calming measures were skeptical they would.
However, The Banner’s analysis of state vehicle-crash data and the city’s citations shows the number of crashes has dropped significantly since March 2022, when transportation officials installed the two cameras. They began issuing citations from those cameras in July 2022 following a 90-day trial period.
The Banner found that crashes dropped by half in the three months after the cameras were installed compared to the three prior months.
The results likely come as a welcome revelation for city officials. The citations issued, and the fees collected from those citations, have been lower than projected, forcing them to adjust the transportation agency’s budget for this fiscal year.
The Banner’s analysis does not prove causation. The cameras are not definitively linked to greater safety outcomes on I-83. There are several factors at play and some reasons to be skeptical. But the early outcomes appear promising at a time when Maryland roadway fatalities are at their highest in a decade.
“When drivers slow down and obey the speed limit, it reduces the possibility of severe to fatal crashes,” Corren Johnson, the Baltimore City Department of Transportation director, said in a statement. “Saving lives on I-83 is the ultimate goal of the JFX Speed Camera Program.”
State transportation officials, meanwhile, have been sounding the alarm that Maryland is on pace to top 600 roadway fatalities this year for the first time since 2007. They largely blame the uptick on risky, pandemic-induced driver behavior such as aggressive speeding and distracted driving.
And, even though crashes are down on I-83, Baltimore saw 46 roadway fatalities in 2022 — the third-highest number for all Maryland jurisdictions. But the numbers provided by the Motor Vehicle Administration showed the city is below the state average in fatalities when calculated per resident.
Experts who research traffic safety said two cameras would likely have minimal effect on driver safety.
“If they only put the camera in one spot, the driver will do two [things]. First, when they see the camera they will slow down, and when they pass [the] camera, they accelerate,” said Gang-Len Chang, director of the Traffic Safety and Operations Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Mansoureh Jeihani, a professor and director at the National Transportation Center at Morgan State University, emphasized that speed cameras can be effective for cleaning up particularly dangerous sections of road.
“It’s a good statistic, [crashes have] reduced; however, we need to look at all other variables,” said Jeihani, citing near-crashes and changes in overall speeds since the camera installations as other important measures of effectiveness.
The Banner found that crashes on I-83 in Baltimore are down overall since the cameras were installed, especially in the stretch of road within a mile of the cameras.
Accidents within one mile of the cameras have historically occurred at rates similar to the rest of the city’s stretch of the expressway. Now those two miles have some of the lowest rates. The monthly crash average in both directions fell to eight per month in the second quarter of 2022. The drop is even lower in recent months, though lag in the reporting of the most serious accidents means those counts will likely turn out to be higher when every crash has been reported.
Another reason to be skeptical of the camera’s impact: The speeds drivers are getting clocked at have barely budged. On average, drivers are getting ticketed around the 65 mph mark, plus or minus a few decimal points. Overall, citation speeds have fallen only 0.3 mph since speeding cameras were activated in July 2022, The Banner’s analysis found. City transportation department spokeswoman Marly Cardona Moz, in a statement , said every numerical decimal change matters and could have an effect on crashes and crash severity.
Speeding citations peaked in August 2020 when about 40,000 tickets were issued. Only about 24,000 were issued in June 2023, the most recent month The Banner has complete data for. It’s possible that the more exposure drivers have to the cameras the more they take heed of the warnings to slow down.
Beyond speed cameras, more advanced technology could help drive the number of crashes down even more, Morgan State’s Jeihani said. Dynamic signs that show an approaching driver’s speed along roadways, car dashboard speed warnings and automated steering wheel assistance can nudge the typical driver away from risky behavior. And, for the real Formula One wannabes, future side-of-the-road devices could communicate directly with vehicles about upcoming hazards and even override car controls to slow them down.
Jeihani and her team at Morgan State are experimenting with some of this new roadway tech. They have installed LiDAR — an advanced laser imaging hardware that can detect movement better than radar — at two intersections outside of their northeast Baltimore campus to study how to improve safety for traffic and pedestrians.
“Right now we have a golden opportunity; a lot of money is coming from the federal infrastructure bill,” she said. “So use it to make your infrastructure smarter and more safe and to be able to connect it to the cars, to send messages, to be able to protect intersections and work zones. All of that can happen.”
This story and the accidents chart have been updated to show the correct rates of accidents on I-83.
Learn more about our analysis and reproduce our findings by visiting our GitHub page.