Traffic camera on patrol

Anne Arundel: County's decision to move head with red-light devices could save lives at intersections.

June 16, 2000

GARRETT AUGUSTUS Morgan knew he had to do something to improve traffic safety when he saw a car collide with a horse-drawn carriage at a Cleveland intersection in the early 1920s. So he invented the traffic signal.

Things quickly got better for passengers and horses.

But intersections are still dangerous. Too many drivers cause damage, injury and death with their vehicles. So the red-light camera -- which has come to Anne Arundel County -- was invented to help police enforce traffic laws and make intersections safer.

This is crucial. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Arlington, Va., estimates that red-light runners cause 260,000 crashes a year, about 750 of them fatal. But red-light running drops 40 percent to 60 percent at urban intersections where cameras are installed, the institute reports. Howard and Baltimore counties have reported significant reductions.

Anne Arundel County has finally taken advantage of this high-tech law enforcer. The electronic camera, using sensors, snaps pictures of rear license tags of cars that run red lights. The county has begun testing its first red-light cameras and soon will send photographs and $75 tickets to car owners whose vehicles are clearly shown going through traffic signals when the light is red.

The camera is a police partner, within limits.

This is not Big Brother: The cameras take pictures of the rear of vehicles. They don't photograph the faces of drivers or their passengers in a way that would needlessly intrude on their privacy.

Also, there are no criminal charges: The violations are civil penalties like parking tickets. The penalty essentially is assessed against the car's owner, not necessarily the driver. No points are assessed on drivers' licenses, as is the case when a police officer tickets a motorist for a moving violation.

The devices will help make Anne Arundel's intersections as safe as Garrett Morgan intended them to be.

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