County considers red-light cameras

Unsafe intersections would be the focus

state approval needed

October 09, 2005|By SHERIDAN LYONS | SHERIDAN LYONS,SUN REPORTER

The Carroll County commissioners are considering whether to install red-light cameras at dangerous intersections.

The intent is to reduce accidents, not to generate revenue, said Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget, in a preliminary briefing last week at the commissioners' request. The vendor would receive a fixed fee, rather than a fee per citation or a percentage of the fines.

The cameras snap a photograph only when the light is red, he said.

The length of the yellow light, which has provoked criticism in Baltimore and elsewhere, would not be a factor.

Pictures of the car in the intersection and the license plate would be reviewed by the police, Zaleski said.

"If the reviewer says there was not a violation, nothing more would happen," Zaleski said, mentioning as an example an ambulance speeding up behind an offending vehicle. "If it looks like good documentation of a violation, a citation would be mailed to the owner of the vehicle."

While the citation can be fought in court, he said, few are overturned "because the system works." In New York City, he said, 7,000 of 1.4 million citations were challenged.

Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning said these are civil rather than criminal citations and they do not generate points on a driver's license or require notification of insurance companies.

The older red-light camera systems use 35 millimeter film that has higher resolution but must be handled and processed, Zaleski said, while digital systems eliminate the need for daily tending of the equipment. Video is also available but requires more lighting at the intersection, which some people say creates a distraction to drivers.

The newer technology can provide 30 seconds of film, which could be useful to police officers investigating an accident, Zaleski said.

"Can we have it on a state highway? Route 30, 140, 26, 32?" asked Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, rattling off the county's congested roadways.

Installation of the equipment requires approval by the state, with information on traffic counts and numbers of violations, Zaleski said. The state might also require engineering improvements at the intersections. Selecting the sites involves factors such as traffic volume, the number of citizens' complaints and concerns for pedestrians. "Not every intersection is a red-light-running problem," he said.

Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, said, "The question is whether we want to proceed and who would be the lead agency," suggesting that they revisit the issue soon. The three commissioners agreed.

"It works for me," Minnich said. "This isn't about revenue. This is about whether you feel safe entering an intersection at rush hour in Carroll County - and I don't.

"I can count 20 cars going through a red light, and it's even worse at Englar Road," he said. "Somebody can be maimed for life because someone wants to get 90 seconds farther down the road."

Many violations

Tregoning recalled counting 125 to 150 violations at one intersection in a 24-hour period.

Zaleski urged the commissioners to build public support before embarking upon a photo-enforcement program.

He said that a successful system would reduce injuries and citations, but that not much data is available.

Sherry Llewellyn, Howard County Police Department spokeswoman, said Howard was the first county in the state to use the red-light cameras and serves as the regional center for many jurisdictions, not including Baltimore City.

Howard program

"The program works very well here," she said. "The program is run by the Police Department," while the vendor receives a preset fee rather than a percentage.

"We've had a reduction in collisions in intersections - particularly side impacts, which are more deadly."

Zaleski said a program in Carroll likely would be administered by Scott R. Campbell, the county's administrator of Public Safety Support Services, with the cooperation of other agencies.

"The last Board of Commissioners looked at it about four years ago," he said, without deciding to proceed.

sherry.lyons@baltsun.com

WE WANT YOUR OPINIONS

ISSUE:

Carroll County commissioners are considering the installation of red-light cameras at several high-traffic intersections in Westminster, Hampstead and Eldersburg. The cameras, widely used throughout the state, would capture on film motorists who run red lights. The motorists could later be sent a citation for the traffic violation. Officials said the intent is to reduce accidents, not to generate revenue, but the county would receive revenue from the fines. Do you think the commissioners should move forward with the installations?

YOUR VIEW:

Send responses by Thursday via e-mail to carroll. letters @baltsun.com, by mail to The Sun, 2 Locust Lane, Suite 202, Westminster 21157, or by fax to 410-876-0439. A selection of responses will be published Sunday. Please keep your responses short and include your name, address and telephone number. Addresses and phone numbers will not be published.

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