Police overhead may curb drivers running red lights

May 01, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Drivers who run red lights may have more than police cars in their rearview mirrors to worry about -- soon they'll have to be concerned about police helicopters overhead.

The new tactic is one that state officials hope local police departments will use at problem intersections where drivers frequently disregard traffic signals.

State and local officials are scheduled to meet tomorrow at the Long Reach fire station in Columbia to promote a traffic safety campaign that encourages tougher enforcement.

"Running red lights is a serious problem," said Tom Hicks, traffic and safety director for the State Highway Administration. "They are very severe accidents when they happen. And they're preventable. It's all due to carelessness."

Tomorrow's meeting at 2:30 p.m. will bring together Gov. William Donald Schaefer and representatives of the Maryland Department of Transportation, the SHA, the Maryland State Police and law enforcement officials from Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, Baltimore, Harford, Montgomery, and Howard counties.

The state has given each local police department about $6,000 to use for stricter traffic enforcement, most of it to pay overtime for increased police patrols.

Mr. Hicks said state and local officials have been meeting since last summer to discuss solutions to traffic problems. An accident in Howard County last spring helped bring the safety issue to the forefront of discussion, Mr. Hicks said.

Suzanne Bice, 43, was killed and her son, Philip, then 11, was seriously injured when their car was struck by a dump truck as Mrs. Bice tried to turn left from Thunderhill Road to the westbound lane of Route 175. The dump truck driver, headed east on Route 175, ran a red light, police said. The driver was sentenced to prison in March on charges arising from the accident.

A state police helicopter will be used tomorrow at Route 175 and Tarmar Drive to demonstrate a new enforcement method. The helicopter can monitor a beacon at a traffic light, then radio police ground units to stop drivers who run red signals.

A utility truck will lift onlookers up to 50 feet so that they can see the beacons officers in a helicopter would view during spot checks. The beacons change color along with the traffic signal and can be seen by officers in a helicopter from 1,500 feet up.

Mr. Hicks said state and local officials will meet again in three months to decide if the technique is effective.

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