Her target is cars that run red lights EAST COLUMBIA


July 06, 1993|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Sharon Gooden doesn't seek a high profile or relish the role of activist. She'd just as soon leave political battles to someone who enjoys the gamesmanship.

But her conscience won't allow her to relinquish the "Make a Vow" campaign that she has started in an effort to urge motorists to make a commitment not to speed through red lights.

The Oakland Mills village resident launched the campaign, placing signs along busy roads and fliers at shopping centers, following the April 29 accident that killed Suzanne Bice. Ms. Bice's car was struck by a dump truck whose driver is charged with having run a red light on Route 175 at Thunder Hill Road.

"I want to put it away and let someone else do it, but I can't do that," said Ms. Gooden, who suffered injuries in an accident in February at the same intersection when her van was hit broadside by a vehicle that ran the Route 175 red light. "I can't live with that and let someone else get killed. I made a vow to Suzanne Bice that I would do something."

Last week, Ms. Gooden joined County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, at a meeting addressing the concern with state highway administrators and the county's police chief and public works director. Mr. Gray proposed studying an experimental program in which hidden automated cameras would be mounted with traffic signals at selected crossroads and would take photographs of vehicles in an intersection after a light has turned red.

New York City has experimented with the technology, which allows vehicles to be traced to their owners by zooming in on the license plates in the photographs. Ms. Gooden presented the idea to Mr. Gray after she discussed the concept with the engineering company which conducted the pilot program in New York.

Mr. Gray told the officials that motorists in Howard County and throughout the state apparently are becoming more brazen in their disregard for red lights and are creating a "very dangerous problem."

"I think the statistics speak for themselves," said Mr. Gray, offering a report showing that 259 accidents had occurred over a one-year period at 20 busy county intersections. "It's a problem we need to address. The question is how to address it. I'm not offering this as a panacea. Hopefully, it will stimulate some creative and innovative thinking."

State Highway Administrator Hal Kassoff was skeptical about the proposal, saying there were "huge questions" about its feasibility. Some concerns are whether points could be assessed against drivers' licenses for violations, and whether the vehicle operator could be positively identified, he said.

Legal issues, such as whether photographic evidence of traffic violations would hold up in court, also are unclear, said Ron Lipps, chief of the state's traffic safety division.

"You need to get stopped and caught and served [a citation] on the spot and face points," said Mr. Kassoff. "The key question will be enforcement. If the penalty is like a parking fine, I don't think we should go any further with the system. You see what scofflaws do with parking violations. It's a joke."

Mr. Kassoff asked Mr. Lipps to research the technology and prepare a report.

The officials also discussed ways to detect and apprehend traffic violators by using helicopter surveillance, and agreed that motorists' disrespect for red lights is a statewide problem.

Howard Police Chief James Robey said the department monitors certain intersections, but has limited resources to expend on catching traffic light violations. He said he would discuss air surveillance of traffic violations at next week's Maryland Chiefs of Police meeting.

Ms. Gooden said she was disappointed that the state officials didn't appear to show much interest in pursuing Mr. Gray's proposal.

"I'm sure things need to be looked into and researched, but it shouldn't be shot down at the first meeting," she said, vowing that she would continue advocating the concept.

"Lives could be saved by the cameras. Eventually the word would get out and it would hit people in the pocketbook. If the camera's there, you're definitely going to get caught."

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