- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Maryland transportation authorities are using E-ZPass technology to cite thousands of motorists who speed through toll plazas — a tactic that has drivers and transportation groups fuming.

Citizen Advocates for Safe and Efficient Travel, a motorist advocacy group, logged more than 300 complaints from upset drivers since July 15, when the group’s president said the strategy was made public.

“On one hand, the state wants [drivers] to buy E-ZPass to help traffic flow; then, on the other hand, nails us for doing it,” President Chuck Jackson said.

“It’s a cheap speed-trap aimed at unsuspecting motorists, who are being cited for violating a speed limit that is difficult to obey and posted so you don’t see it until they already ‘gotcha.’ Nearly everyone who called accused the state of being deceptive and sneaky in the way this is being handled.”

State officials said the monitoring of speed at the state’s seven toll plazas is neither new nor clandestine.

“When a customer opens an account and E-ZPass, they are agreeing to the terms and conditions,” said Teri Moss, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority. “I need to stress that a motorist frequently has to be going substantially above the posted speed in order for their accounts to be suspended.”

The transportation authority in April removed traffic lights from most E-ZPass lanes to keep traffic moving.

Transportation officials said they want to avoid the stop-and-go situations that occur when E-ZPass drivers wait for the green light to pass through the tolls.

The speed limit in most of the E-ZPass lanes is 15 mph.

Notices have been issued since July 2002, Miss Moss said. For each violation, a notice was mailed to the motorist’s residence. Thousands of notices have been sent each year, she said.

E-ZPass privileges are suspended for those motorists who are consistently caught speeding, as many as 20 occurrences over a 90-day period, Miss Moss said. The privileges can be suspended for up to 90 days, officials said.

“The authority began suspending accounts in January,” Miss Moss said. “Since that time, we have suspended 100 accounts for 60 days each.”

Drivers with suspended accounts because of speeding are subject to a $15 administrative fee and civil penalties for each time they continue to use the E-ZPass after notification.

Mr. Jackson, a former spokesman for the Maryland State Police, scoffed at the authority’s explanation that the speed limits are safe and that the public was properly informed.

“Most drivers are innocently trying to keep up with the flow of traffic without hitting someone in front of them,” Mr. Jackson said. “It’s a rear-end collision waiting to happen.”

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