Cop in a camera Red-light law: Electronic partner for police should improve road safety.

December 23, 1997

DRIVERS WHO think yellow traffic signals mean "accelerate" had better think again. Starting next month, it will be double jeopardy for motorists who risk beating signals. Police in Howard County are getting a high-tech partner to enforce traffic laws; other counties could follow suit.

Automobile owners will receive citations in the mail when cameras photograph their cars going through red lights in Howard County.

So drivers, take heed. A patrol car may not be in the picture, but you could be.

Howard County police will begin using electronic cameras by the end of January at four Columbia intersections to record license plates of vehicles guilty of red-light violations. Other jurisdictions also are considering the device. At the appointed places, sensors will trigger cameras when the light turns red. Three rapid-fire photographic shots will record the rear of the vehicle -- with license tag.

If your car is caught on film, forget about arguing that you weren't driving at the time, unless you're willing to divulge the name of the driver. These $75 tickets are like parking citations; fines are issued to the vehicle owner. But offenses will not appear on driving records and motorists won't be assessed points.

Montgomery County will begin testing the camera next month; Baltimore County plans to install the devices sometime next year.

The legislation allows Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Carroll counties to use the devices to make motorists more aware of red-light violations. Jurisdictions employing this method would recoup the cost for the devices in reduced hospital costs and fewer fatalities.

Red-light violations caused 2,270 injury accidents in the area in 1995, the last year for which statistics are available. These include 185 injury accidents in Anne Arundel, 356 in Baltimore County, 1,494 in Baltimore City, 57 in Carroll, 105 in Harford and 83 in Howard. These violations caused 29 fatalities.

When this new enforcement mechanism goes into effect, it no longer will take an officer to cite violators. Motorists may be less likely to run through red lights if they know a law-enforcement device may be hanging around. It's good to know that on some corners in Maryland, the eyes of the law will always be on watch to improve road safety.

Pub Date: 12/23/97

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