Cameras to catch red-light runners Disobedient drivers in Howard County will receive $75 ticket

December 19, 1997|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

No more warnings, red-light runners.

Beginning next month, Howard County promises a $75 ticket if your car is caught -- on camera -- sailing on red through selected intersections.

Scofflaws should expect to receive similar treatment later next year in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, which are watching neighboring Howard with great interest.

By late next month, Howard expects to become the first jurisdiction in Maryland to use automated cameras mounted at intersections to ticket red-light runners. In a widely publicized pilot project this year, the county sent hundreds of warning letters to violators.

Fed up with the dangerous practice, local governments in other states have been using cameras for several years to catch and ticket violators.

In New York City, the cameras generated millions of dollars in fines and led to an almost 20 percent drop in red-light running at the handful of intersections that had them.

Hoping for similar success, the Maryland General Assembly last spring gave local governments the power to set up cameras at intersections.

Last year, 25 people died and almost 4,000 were injured in Maryland in crashes blamed on failure to obey a traffic signal, according to the State Highway Administration.

Howard expects to begin by using five or six cameras at four Columbia-area intersections, said Jeanne Upchurch, a civilian who supervises the county police's Automated Enforcement Division.

The county will soon expand the program to a total of 15 of its most dangerous intersections -- sites that are still being selected, she said.

The initial sites for cameras will be the intersections of Little Patuxent Parkway and Columbia Road, Broken Land Parkway and Stevens Forest Road, Little Patuxent Parkway and Governor Warfield Parkway, and Snowden River Parkway near Berger Road, she said.

Statistics were not available yesterday on the effect of the pilot program, conducted at two of the sites last winter and early spring.

Montgomery County will begin testing a camera at an undisclosed location next month, said Emil Wolanin, an official with the Montgomery Department of Public Works and Transportation.

Montgomery also will issue warning notices at first. By early fall, however, the county plans to have 10 cameras rotating among 15 locations, and to begin issuing citations.

Baltimore plans to install red light cameras in 1998, although details were unavailable yesterday, said city Public Works Department spokesman Kurt Kocher. "We are committed to doing something," he said.

How it works

In Howard, the camera is mounted several car lengths before an intersection, with the lens facing the traffic signal. The camera remains off while the light is green. Once the light turns red, sensors in the road trigger the camera when a vehicle fails to stop for the light.

The camera takes three color photographs of the rear of the vehicle as it travels through the intersection. Using the license tag number, the county will send a civil citation to the registered owner. The fine is the owner's responsibility, just as with a parking ticket. However, the violation will not appear on driving records and points would not be assessed.

Vehicle owners may contest the ticket in District Court. They can use as a defense the contention that they weren't driving the car, but would have to divulge the name of the person who was at the wheel, police said.

A lawyer for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry-funded research group, said he knew of no appellate court ruling invalidating such programs.

Howard police Lt. Glenn Hansen said department officials received some compliments when the first warning letters were sent to violators.


One mother was glad to learn that her teen-age daughter had run a red light, because it gave her the chance to discuss traffic safety with the girl, he said. Another woman said she hoped the warning would be a "wake-up call" to her aggressive-driver husband.

The county has earmarked $200,000 in the current budget year for the program, Hansen said. Two companies will receive a portion of each $75 ticket for their work. EDS Corp. of Herndon, Va., will receive $19.10 per citation issued to supply the computer software and hardware to process the photographs. LeMarquis International Inc. of Boca Raton, Fla., will earn $9.86 per citation to supply and maintain the cameras, Hansen said.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.