Baltimore County to put cameras at red lights

Police seek to cut signal running

January 28, 1999|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County will become the second in the state to use cameras to catch and fine red-light runners, joining Howard County in a regionalized effort to save lives.

County police plan to install 10 cameras by early summer and add 10 more later in the year, said Lt. Minda Foxwell, who supervises the county's traffic management unit. Police have targeted nine heavily traveled corridors in the county but have chosen only one intersection: Falls and Joppa roads, where the county will announce the red-light camera plan today.

"We need this to save lives," said county resident Kitty Schlessinger, whose 7-year-old daughter Hannah was killed when a driver ran a red light at Falls and Joppa roads on March 21. "I hope by putting this camera up that other 7-year-olds that pass through this intersection will be able to live the full, long life that my daughter didn't get."

Hannah was one of seven people who died in Baltimore County crashes last year caused by red-light violations, police said. Another 168 crashes caused injuries. National figures show that deaths caused by red-light running rose 15 percent between 1992 and 1996, police said, and violations of traffic signals and signs are the leading cause of accidents.

"The issue is changing behavior -- getting people to obey traffic signals," said Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan. "I can't help but believe that it will have an impact."

The impact has been significant in Howard County. Since February, when the county installed the first two of its 20 cameras at traffic lights, the violation rate dropped 53 percent -- well above the average of 40 percent reported by other places in the country.

The county's Automated Enforcement Division sent out nearly 13,000 citations in 1998, said Jeanne Upchurch, a civilian employee of the division -- and 91 percent of those cited paid the fine without going to court.

"Across the board, we are seeing a decrease" in the incidence of drivers running red lights, she said.

Baltimore County is looking at eight to 12 intersections in each corridor with a high rate of accidents and red-light violations, Foxwell said. Many are near the Beltway, where drivers exit at high speeds and do not slow down.

Other jurisdictions this year plan to join Howard and Baltimore counties, including Laurel, Hyattsville and several other southern Maryland areas. Anne Arundel County is considering installing red-light cameras at intersections, and Baltimore City is expected to announce a program next month.

Following Howard's model, Baltimore County will lease the cameras and install them at intersections. The cameras will be positioned about 60 feet before the intersection and will be triggered by a pair of magnetic loops under the pavement.

The camera will take pictures when the light is red and a car is exceeding 18 miles an hour. That speed is designed to allow motorists to turn right on red or to turn left through a light that turned red after they entered the intersection without being cited, Foxwell said.

The camera takes two pictures of each vehicle: one showing it not yet in the intersection when the light is red, and a second one showing that the car has gone through the light, Foxwell said. Each camera can take 400 frames per roll of film, and the cameras are emptied daily.

Once the film is processed, it goes to the Howard County Automated Enforcement Division building near Columbia. Using computers, the prints are evaluated, and those judged clear enough that the tag number is unmistakable become citations. The fine is $75, and no points go on the offender's license (because the citation is issued to the car's registered owner, not to the driver).

Each citation has a color photograph showing the car, tag clearly visible, as it went through the red light. It shows the date, time and the car's speed (the record in Howard is a motorist cited for running a red light at 78 mph). Failure to pay after two reminders results in the car's registration being flagged through the Motor Vehicle Administration, which will require payment before tag renewal.

Foxwell hopes that Baltimore County's cameras will have the same success rate that Howard's did.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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