Senate OKs radar camera legislation to nab speeders

County officials pleased

bill needs other approvals

March 27, 2003|By Jason Song and Stephanie Desmon | Jason Song and Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials praised the passage of a Maryland Senate bill yesterday that would allow automated radar cameras to ticket speeders in school zones and residential neighborhoods. Offenders would receive a $100 fine.

Howard elected officials said yesterday they were leaning toward using the radar cameras if they are approved by the state.

"I'm inclined to be supportive, said Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat. "I've been told that the cameras are a critical need around homes and schools."

Senators voted 30-17 to allow installation of the cameras on residential streets. The cameras would ticket drivers going more than 10 mph over the speed limit.

To become law, the bill must be approved by the House of Delegates and signed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has indicated he is skeptical of the benefits of radar cameras.

Howard police have been among the state's leaders in using traffic cameras. The county was among the first jurisdictions in Maryland to install red-light cameras in 1998.

Howard police say cameras that catch speeders are particularly needed around schools. During February, police put speed-measuring devices around some elementary schools to monitor drivers.

At some schools, more than 90 percent of drivers were speeding, and up to 25 percent were going 10 mph over the limit, police said.

At Stevens Forest Elementary School, 6045 Stevens Forest Road, police detected 259 drivers over a nearly three-hour period. About 97 percent of the drivers exceeded the speed limit, and 89, or nearly 34 percent, were driving at least 10 mph over the limit.

At Guilford Elementary, 7335 Oakland Mills Road, police detected 482 drivers. About 91 percent were speeding, and 147 were going 10 mph over the limit, police said yesterday.

While the debate over the cameras was heated - some senators felt the cameras would erode personal freedom and others believed the devices would increase safety - the dialogue turned comic yesterday in Annapolis.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Frederick County Republican who opposed the bill, read from a newspaper op-ed piece by a woman who received four expensive tickets in one week in Washington, which uses the cameras widely on its streets.

"Since the speeding radar system has been implemented, 2,438 erroneous speeding tickets have been issued. This proves that the system is not foolproof, as the District claims. The officers operating these radars are making numerous mistakes, and the city has had to reimburse those wrongly fined," he read, trying to bolster his opposition to the equipment.

The chamber erupted in laughter, though, when Mooney got to this line: "Terrified of getting more speeding tickets and incurring even more debt, I have become obsessed with driving within the speed limit."

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