Cameras may shift focus to speeding Carroll cars Howard red-light program inspires plan to slow, fine drivers exceeding limits

October 08, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons and James M. Coram | Sheridan Lyons and James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

With an eye toward reducing speed on county roads and increasing revenue, the County Commissioners decided yesterday to look into using cameras to catch and fine speeders.

The cameras would be attached to "speed monitors" along county roads that tell motorists how fast they're going. Under the proposal, owners of speeding cars would be mailed citations.

"We're right at the starting gate -- asking questions and getting answers to get a feasible concept," said Max Bair, the commissioners' chief of staff.

He said the concept would be modeled after a program launched in Howard County this year. Howard became the first jurisdiction in Maryland to use cameras in a program that catches red-light runners.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown proposed the idea during a routine meeting with staff members yesterday. Brown became impressed with Howard's efforts after talking to that county's economic director, Richard W. Story, at the Maryland Association of Counties meeting in Ocean City during the summer.

"They issue the tickets, and all the profits come to the county," Brown said, suggesting that Carroll might be able to adapt the red-light program to catch speeders.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell seemed intrigued by the idea but wondered whether ticket revenue would go to the state rather than the county, because Carroll uses resident state troopers as its primary county police force.

The third commissioner, Richard T. Yates, did not attend the meeting.

Bair, who was directed to study Brown's idea, said he needs to find out whether it is possible -- whether the red-light technology can be adapted to connect a camera to the county's portable speed-display signs, which are used to educate rather than to punish drivers.

"That concept of being tied to the speed monitors, I need to check out with our legal people," said Bair. "How it would work in terms of who collects the fines, how the courts would treat it -- things like that.

"I imagine it could take a little time," he added. But "the fines probably would not go to the county under the current situation."

Bair's assignment arose after the commissioners received a letter from Joseph J. Schiavone Jr. He asked for help to slow traffic on Ridge Road in the Freedom district between Route 26 )) and Marriottsville Road.

In a petition signed by 30 neighbors, he suggested measures such as speed bumps, no-through-traffic signs, traffic circles and stop signs.

The 43-year-old software engineer, who lives in the 6800 block of Ridge Road, said he wasn't thinking in terms of cameras -- but he likes the idea. His only reservation: "The thing would run out of film on the first 30 cars."

"I'm not a traffic specialist. I don't know the appropriate measures for our road," Schiavone said. "However, I would welcome anything that would alleviate the traffic on our road."

Schiavone said he wrote to the commissioners because of the increase in the past two years in the number and the speed of vehicles, which routinely travel at more than 50 mph on the 30-mph two-lane road.

"It's turning into a beltway in our front yard," he said.

A poll this year by Louis Harris for a safety advocacy group found 65 percent of Americans favored use of traffic cameras in their states. Several cities and towns across the nation also use the automated cameras to take snapshots of vehicles entering intersections on a red light.

When a car is photographed running a red light in Howard, the owner pays a fine 87 percent of the time, Howard Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay said recently. Like parking tickets, the citations are mailed to vehicle owners but do not appear on their driving records.

The camera takes three pictures: the vehicle entering an intersection; continuing through it; and the license plate. The county budgeted $200,000 for the program, and the companies that provide the cameras and the equipment to process the photographs take a flat share of each fine.

Only the car and the license plate are photographed, not the occupants, under the Howard program. The fine for running a red light is $75, and no points are assessed. The car owner's insurance company is not notified.

Carroll would need authorization from the state to begin a program to catch speeders, Bair said. It took two years and intense lobbying for Howard County to get the General Assembly to approve its red-light program.

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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