- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2000

Prince George's County, Md., officials Thursday gave the green light to what will be the region's largest system for photographing drivers running red lights.

The announcement came after workers installed an automatic camera at probably the county's most dangerous intersection Pointer Ridge Drive and Route 301 south of Bowie.

"This intersection, this highway is one of the most dangerous in the state," said Jim Estepp, who was in county law enforcement 30 years before election in 1994 to the County Council.

Within three years, officials said, similar cameras will be set up to photograph red-light runners at 60 intersections in the 500-square-mile county. The cameras can be moved to other intersections as needed.

"This will be the most extensive red-light photographic program in the Washington area," said County Executive Wayne K. Curry, adding that similar programs across the nation have reduced red-light violations 40 to 60 percent as drivers became aware of the increased possibilities of getting caught.

In Fairfax, Va., after one year of intersection photography, red light violations declined 40 percent, according to one study.

The District of Columbia has the next most red-light cameras in the metropolitan area. At last count, they had cameras at 48 intersections.

Police Chief John Farrell expects the cameras to reduce intersection accidents, injuries and fatalities. Last year, the Maryland State Highway Administration counted more than 2,300 accidents, 2,000 injuries and nine fatalities at Prince George's County intersections.

"Nine senseless, senseless losses of life," Chief Farrell said. "Nine human beings no longer with us."

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied drivers captured by a red-light camera at an Arlington, Va., intersection. It reported, "As a group, red-light runners were younger, less likely to use safety belts, had poorer driving records and drove smaller and older vehicles. Red-light runners were more than three times as likely to have multiple speeding convictions on their driver records."

Maryland State Senator Leo Green, District 23 Democrat, regretted that it took the General Assembly so long to legalize red-light cameras. He pointed out the added benefits of freeing police for other duties and profits from the $75 fines.

"It's not only a safety measure, it's a profit measure as well," Mr. Green said, explaining that Howard County, which established the test program, received more than $3 million from red-light runners last year.

Prince George's police expect to mail tickets and photographs to owners or lessors of vehicles within five days after running red lights, said Capt. Gary Corso, project coordinator.

The photograph will show the vehicle in the intersection, clearly running the red light. It will show the time of day or night cameras are equipped with flash units and the speed of the vehicle.

The car's owner or lessor has five days to pay the fine. If owners prefer to take their cases to court, they may be fined up to $100.

The cameras are being installed and operated by Lockheed Martin Information Management Systems at an estimated cost of #3.3 million.

Regional Vice President Calvin Smith estimated more than 110 cameras will be flashing at Washington metropolitan intersections by the time Prince George's installations are completed.

"This is lifesaving technology. It's been long needed," said Bowie Mayor G. Fred Robinson.

"It's not about money. It's about saving lives. There is similar technology available to catch speeders," said Chief Farrell, predicting that speed-fighting technology may eventually be installed along roads speeders prefer.

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