No Stopping the 'Red Light Lady'

May 13, 1994

Fanatics, as a group, have a negative image, but they're not without their successes. Some even deserve medals.

Sharon Gooden certainly fits the attributes of a fanatic. The 41-year-old mother of three has spent the past year campaigning to stop motorists from running red lights. She was spurred on after an accident at an intersection near her Columbia home took the life of a woman and seriously injured the woman's son.

The woman's car was broadsided by a dump truck that had run a red light. "I couldn't get it out of my mind that it was just a mom taking her son to the dentist," Ms. Gooden said.

In the last year, Ms. Gooden has posted numerous signs at dangerous intersections admonishing motorists to stop for red lights. She has even followed drivers she has seen running red lights to stop and chastise them.

In the process, Ms. Gooden has been both praised and pilloried. Police and medical personnel who have seen the consequences of traffic accidents praise her. The frustrated motorists she has confronted for their infractions have screamed insults and tossed fliers back in her face.

She has become defined by her deeds in a manner that reflects not so much appreciation as ridicule. She has been called the "Red Light Lady" and "the one who puts up those posters." Such comments diminish Ms. Gooden's vital message.

Her tireless dedication has brought attention to a persistent problem. In 1992, the last year for which figures were available, 3,700 traffic accidents in Maryland resulted from motorists running red lights, including 20 fatalities. Just three days ago, 40 people received injuries when a car ran a red light and struck a transit bus in northeast Baltimore. In part due to Ms. Gooden's efforts, the state has initiated a four-month pilot program using helicopters and small planes to catch motorists running red lights in six jurisdictions, including Howard County.

Ms. Gooden considers that initiative insufficient (even after politicians included her in their "photo op" to unveil the program). She is pushing for the state to install automated cameras at dangerous intersections to photograph the license plates of offenders so that they can be issued citations.

Luckily for those of us who travel the state's roads, Ms. Gooden remains a determined fanatic.

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