Md. bill calls for lights, camera, tickets

March 19, 1997


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - It happens once every 14 minutes on Maryland streets and roads, and that's only the motorists who get caught.

But traffic tickets alone don't begin to account for the number of people who risk injury and death by driving through red lights, say supporters of legislation that would permit police departments to nab traffic light offenders by taking pictures of their license plates.

"We've got a lot of people hurt and killed out there because people are blowing through red lights," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, who spoke in favor of the bill on the House of Delegates floor Wednesday.


The bill would allow police to mail fines to owners of cars that pass through an automatic monitoring device triggered whenever a vehicle fails to stop at a red light.

Running red lights is a dangerous practice that requires such a tool, supporters of the legislation contend. Last year, state drivers were cited for 37,000 various red light violations, according to the legislature's Department of Fiscal Services.

In Hagerstown, 117 accidents were caused by signal violations last year, said Police Chief Dale Jones. Only speeding accounts for more traffic violations, he said.

"I don't know if it's a growing problem, but it is a problem," Jones said, adding that one of the red lights run most frequently by drivers in the city is the one at the intersection of Dual Highway and Eastern Boulevard.

He said photographic monitoring makes good sense because it can save lives, prevent injury and free up police officers for other duties.

"I think it's a good idea, as long as it's sound technology," Jones said.

The cost of each monitoring system, which would be the responsibility of individual counties and municipalities, is estimated to be about $50,000, but could be offset by the revenues generated by the fines.

Under the bill, the maximum fine would be $100. But the civil penalty would not be considered a moving violation, points would not be assessed and the violations could not affect a driver's insurance rates.

But Del. Leon G. Billings, D-Montgomery, said the bill should be aimed at preventing red-light violations, not simply fining drivers. He introduced an amendment, which ultimately failed, that would require the placement of warning signs at intersections that are monitored.

"The most-important thing here is, are we trying to stop people from running red lights or are we trying to raise revenue?" Billings said.

But Poole objected, saying drivers already are warned.

"Honestly, I think that's what the purpose of the red light is in the first place," he said.

To humorously demonstrate the government's growing interest in various vehicle infractions, Del. George W. Owings III, D-Calvert, showed a drawing he made of a fanciful traffic device that monitors license plates, seat belts, tinted windows and noise.

Poole joked: "Delegate, I just want to tell you you're clearly not doing enough on that committee." Owings serves on the House Environmental Matters Committee.

A final vote on the legislation could come in both the House and Senate by Friday.

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