Starting today, Howard County will hand out $75 fines to motorists whose cars are caught on camera running red lights.
Howard is the first jurisdiction in Maryland to use the much-discussed technology to nab light-runners. But other areas such as Baltimore, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County have expressed interest in starting camera programs.
In Howard, two cameras are up and running, at the intersections of Little Patuxent Parkway and Columbia Road, and at Broken Land Parkway and Stevens Forest Road. The county expects to have about 20 cameras operating by summer's end.
County officials said at a news conference yesterday that they hoped that word of the cameras would compel drivers to obey traffic lights.
"We do not want to make money on this program," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "What we want to do is make people stop running red lights."
Here's how it works: A camera is situated about 60 feet before a busy intersection, with the lens trained on the traffic light. When the light turns red, the camera is activated and sensors in the road trigger the camera when the car fails to stop.
The camera takes three pictures: of the vehicle entering the intersection, the vehicle continuing through it and the vehicle's license plate number. The car's owner will be mailed a $75 citation, which can be appealed to the District Court.
"If you stop abruptly [at the red light], nothing's going to happen," said John Petrozza, project manager for LeMarquis International, the Boca Raton, Fla., company that installs the cameras. "It's a very intelligent camera."
LeMarquis has installed 30 similar cameras in New York City and has test projects under way in San Francisco and Florida, Petrozza said.
Officials stressed that the camera photographs only the back of the car, not the inside.
"People have complained to me about Big Brother taking over," Ecker said. "What I tell people is, 'If you don't run a red light and obey the law, you don't have to worry about getting your picture taken.' "
In a police traffic survey, 60 percent of the respondents admitted to running a red light at least once. A pilot program conducted at two Howard County sites in 1996 showed violations occurring every five minutes at peak hours at some intersections. Warning letters were sent to violators.
In 1996, 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.
Lt. Glenn Hansen, commander of research and planning for Howard County police, said collisions caused by red-light running are traumatic because they involve a high-speed vehicle hitting a low-speed vehicle at an angle. "The high speed can do a lot of damage," Hansen said.
Sgt. William R. Kramph, administrative officer for the Anne Arundel County Police Department, said County Executive John G. Gary and Police Chief Larry Tolliver are "extremely interested" in adopting the program. Kramph said Anne Arundel County is conducting studies to identify which intersections would benefit most from the cameras.
"We have several intersections that have high volumes of traffic that also have high incidents of vehicle accidents," Kramph said. "What we're finding is the majority of them are [caused by] red-light violations."
Maj. William Kelly, commanding officer of support operations for the Baltimore County Police Department, said that county is in the early stages of developing a camera program.
"We realize that red-light violations are a significant cause of the crashes in the county," Kelly said. The red-light camera program is "a good deterrent," he said.
Howard County has set aside $200,000 in the present budget year for the camera program. LeMarquis, the Florida company, will earn $9.86 per citation to supply and maintain the cameras. EDS Corp. of Herndon, Va., will get $19.10 per citation to supply the computer software and hardware to process the photographs.
In addition to the two sites already operating, two more are under construction and six more are being designed, Hansen said. Camera sites are selected based on information such as collision data.
Officials hope awareness of the cameras will save some drivers a traffic fine.
"We want the public to know what's going on before they get something in the mail," Hansen said.
Pub Date: 2/18/98