Speed camera plans imperiled

Governor indicates veto likely of bill to allow local use to curb speeding

Police had targeted 22 roads

April 09, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s indication yesterday that he is likely to veto legislation allowing local jurisdictions to use automatic speed enforcement cameras signals a move that would be a frustrating defeat for Howard County Executive James N. Robey and others seeking tools to fight an epidemic of speeding on suburban roads.

Robey said speeding in residential neighborhoods and around schools is "the most frequently recurring complaint I get" from county residents.

"No police department has the resources to deal with those complaints," he said.

Across Maryland, nearly half of all speeding-related traffic fatalities in 2001 took place on local roads where the posted speed limit was 40 mph or less, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Howard tests of the new cameras last year showed high proportions of speeders around schools.

County police had hoped to park cameras along 22 county roads where speeding is common. At the top of the list is College Avenue in Ellicott City. Enforcing speed limits along its treacherous, shoulderless hills is nearly impossible.

"If we could find the appropriate place and install a speed camera ... hopefully it'll be a deterrent," Robey said.

If the governor signed the bill, it would take about six months for the County Council to enact the necessary legislation and to order and set up the equipment, the county executive estimated.

But Ehrlich "would need a lot of convincing to change his mind," and sign the legislation, Henry Fawell, spokesman for the governor, said yesterday.

The governor and some members of the Howard County Council say they are worried about what they see as potential invasions of privacy from the high-tech enforcement tool.

"I'm apprehensive about them," said Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican. "I worry about this being just the tip of the iceberg."

If the bill is signed by Ehrlich, "I plan on asking a lot of questions of our police chief and administration about exactly how they plan to implement them," said Councilman Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat.

However, he does support use of the technology.

"People hate speed bumps," Ulman said. "They hate traffic calming."

"I can see it used in some very limited circumstances" such as school zones, said Councilman Guy Guzzone, a Savage-North Laurel Democrat.

But he cautioned that cameras would have to go through the legislative process in the county to weigh their merits or lack thereof in a time of tight budgets.

Robey aide Herman Charity estimated that five mobile cameras would cost about $2.5 million. But he said revenues from tickets would cover program expenses.

State Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, said he supported the red-light camera legislation because of the high number of collisions at intersections. He voted against the speed enforcement variety, however, because he believes it would soon herald speed cameras on highways.

"You're just getting too intrusive in people's lives," he said.

That's an argument that doesn't fly with Jackie Gillan of Silver Spring, a mother of two and vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a national organization that is an advocate for traffic safety issues.

Most people have accepted being photographed when entering a Wal-Mart or when withdrawing cash at an automated teller machine, she said.

"Here we have an issue where speed is killing people," Gillan said. "If you don't want the camera to take a picture of your license plate, then don't break the law."

Robey and other supporters agree.

"What's more intrusive?" Robey said. "A camera taking a picture of the rear of your car, or a police officer stopping you, asking you questions, smelling your breath? I think this is certainly a lot less intrusive."

Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay said the fight would not be over if the bill is vetoed.

"There's not much recourse I have except to bring it back next year," he said. "We'll be back. We're not going to give up."

Livesay and Robey noted that the cameras would be used in Howard only on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less. Tickets issued to drivers going more than 10 mph over the limit would be civil citations and would not result in points on driver's licenses.

Signs in the areas would indicate that speed limits would be enforced with cameras. During an introductory period before citations are issued, Robey said, warnings would be given.

"The citizens want us to reduce speed in neighborhoods and schools," said Livesay, "Obviously, we don't have enough [officers]. We have other demands."

Unlike red-light cameras, which require cables to be buried in roadways to detect moving vehicles, speed cameras do not need permanent installation. If the governor signs the bill, the county would deploy up to five mobile speed camera units along the 22 roads initially identified.

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