The vast majority of citations issued by Baltimore’s automated speed cameras aren’t going to residents of the neighborhoods where they are located, a new analysis has found.

Excluding two cameras located on Interstate 83, the study by planning, architecture and engineering firm Mead & Hunt looked at the nearly 268,000 citations issued in the city from 164 cameras between January and June of last year. They used ArcGIS geospatial tools to measure the distance between each camera and the registered address of cited drivers.

Only 4% of citations went to drivers registered within a half-mile of the cameras that nabbed them, a figure that grew to 10% when the distance was extended to one mile, according to a draft summary of findings released last week. And 52% of citations were issued to drivers who were registered 5 miles or more away.

The majority of citations (64%) went to one-time offenders. A small but speedy minority skewed the average to two citations per vehicle — 215 vehicles received between 21 and 50 citations, while 33 received more than 50 tickets.

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Leaders nationwide have long jousted over whether such cameras represent a safety measure that helps rein in dangerous speeding in vulnerable areas or just money grabs — both sides are a little bit right. And in Baltimore and other U.S. cities, some have argued that they disproportionately target Black and low-income neighborhoods.

The findings come as Maryland lawmakers consider bills to increase the use of speed cameras across the state. Officials have both safety and dollars on their minds — some have floated the idea of expanding speed camera programs like Baltimore’s to help fill the dwindling coffers of the Transportation Trust Fund.

“The real problem we need to address is not whether cameras are good or bad. As a tool for safety, research is clear that they are a big help,” wrote Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, last week after posting the draft report.

Dorsey, a vocal road safety advocate, wrote that he worked with Baltimore’s Department of Transportation on the study to address “persistent false claims that cameras harm nearby residents, rather than make them safer.”

In addition to soliciting resident input, the city DOT focuses speed cameras on school zones and locations “prone to accidents and/or traffic violations,” according to its website. Last year, a Baltimore Banner analysis of two automated speed cameras placed along a notorious section of the Jones Falls Expressway found that they may have contributed to a decrease in crashes.

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Across the state, some lawmakers pushed back against automated camera enforcement. Sen. Antonio Hayes tweeted in November, “This is horrible. All of these cameras in neighborhoods. Further taxing Baltimore City residents. Most within the Black Butterfly,” in response to news that eight new automated cameras were going online around Baltimore.

Del. Michele Guyton introduced a bill in Annapolis in January that would give Baltimore County more local control over the placement of automated speed cameras. Under the bill, county police could suggest areas for cameras based on traffic safety analyses, and the County Council would have the final say.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, who also represents Baltimore County, expressed her opposition to the bill shortly after, tweeting that it would “flood your mailbox with $40.00 tickets.”

Safety vs. cash-grab has been a long-standing debate over automated traffic cameras, with equity getting more focus in recent years.

In 2018, a D.C. Policy Center analysis found that drivers moving through predominantly Black areas of Washington, D.C., were 17 times more likely to receive a moving violation than drivers moving through predominantly white areas. “These disparities indicate that absent an affirmative effort to equitably site automated traffic cameras, a disproportionate burden of enforcement is likely borne within the District’s predominantly black neighborhoods,” the report reads.

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But the analysis relied only on the locations of the cameras themselves, not identifiable characteristics of cited drivers, such as the registered driver addresses used in the Mead and Hunt analysis of Baltimore.

A 2022 analysis of Chicago’s automated speed and red-light camera program had similar findings, stating that between 2016 and 2019, drivers in predominantly Black and Latino areas received a higher number of tickets per household than in other parts of Chicago.

The report also highlighted positive safety impacts; “The deployment of cameras reduced the expected number of fatal and severe injury crashes by 15%,” the report states.

Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of pedestrian deaths and injuries, according to a study published in 2023 in the American Journal of Public Health. It claims to be one of the first studies to link historic redlining practices to transportation-related health outcomes.

Proponents of automated cameras point to such research as a reason why transportation officials should focus more safety initiatives in communities of color. But policymakers shouldn’t discredit the economic impact on communities and should consider measures like scaled fines and fees, the Chicago report says.

The locations of Baltimore’s speed and red-light cameras can be found here.

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues.

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