Safer intersections Cameras at crossings: General Assembly should put the brakes on red-light runners.

February 28, 1997

PUT ASIDE "BIG BROTHER" paranoia and state legislators cannot produce a sensible reason for opposing a bill that could make Maryland intersections safer. Incredibly, however, there is opposition in the General Assembly to legislation that would deter motorists from driving through red lights so often.

Several measures before a subcommittee of the House Commerce and Governmental Affairs Committee would allow jurisdictions to fine motorists who are recorded on videotape running red lights. The dangers of trying to catch the last split-second of a yellow light or the very beginning of a red light are apparent.

Statistics reveal the peril of such violations. Drivers running red lights at intersections were responsible for 34 deaths and 4,256 injuries in 1995. Every jurisdiction in the state suffers from these reckless missiles whizzing through intersections. The violations led to 1,495 injury accidents in Baltimore City, 185 in Anne Arundel, 346 in Baltimore County, 57 in Carroll, 105 in Harford and 83 in Howard. Tolls also come in medical expenses and vehicle repair costs.

Placing cameras at intersections to record these dangerous, and potentially fatal, violations will make drivers more reluctant to run a red light. Would a motorist go through a red light if a police car were sitting at the intersection? Cameras would cast a protective eye on corners 24 hours a day. The devices would snap pictures of the vehicle's rear -- not the driver's face. The offense would be treated like a parking ticket, meaning the auto's owner would be fined, but points would not be assessed.

If there are nefarious uses for mounted cameras, this isn't one of them. Such use of technology is akin to the electronic eye in parking garages that are monitored by security guards. People walking to their cars late at night are safer because of them. Likewise, cameras at intersections would enhance security for pedestrians and other motorists.

One would think lawmakers would welcome a chance to literally make the streets safer. But the process has been snarled by a bundle of statewide and local bills with variations in language. Legislators who resist a change that could save lives by putting the brakes on this form of reckless driving may find it difficult explaining their actions later.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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