- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Montgomery County officials expect to nearly double the number of automated traffic cameras police use to photograph and ticket motorists who run red lights and double the revenue they receive from fines.
The addition of 20 photo-enforcement cameras, at a cost of nearly $1.3 million, would boost the number of traffic cameras in use in Montgomery County to 45 by next year.
County budget analysts yesterday told the County Council's Public Safety Committee that the 20 new cameras which would enable automated traffic enforcement at about 7 percent of Montgomery's 700 stoplights would increase collections from red-light fines from the $5 million the county took in last year to $10 million.
The county issues a $75 fine for each red-light-running infraction.
Council member Phil Andrews, Rockville Democrat and chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the extra cameras would be a welcome addition.
"We want to deter reckless behavior," said Mr. Andrews. "There certainly is a point where we hope to see it go down."
"I wait for the day when that happens," said council member Nancy Dacek, up-county Republican.
Although the extra cameras must get final approval in the county budget next month, they clearly have the support of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat, and most of the council.
Montgomery County was among several jurisdictions that lobbied the Maryland General Assembly to be allowed this year to install photo-radar cameras to photograph and fine speeders. Those measures failed to win approval in House and Senate committees.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor, has said proposals to introduce speed-monitoring cameras in Maryland are worth considering.
U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., front-runner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, is a critic of traffic cameras and said he would not allow speed-monitoring cameras in the state.
Critics of traffic cameras say that the program really is a money-making venture for local governments. They also say that photo enforcement does little to improve safety, and that it violates a defendant's basic right to be presumed innocent.
In Maryland, tickets generated by red-light cameras do not count against a motorist's driving record and may not be used to increase their insurance rates. Many drivers caught by the cameras choose to pay the fine rather than spend a day fighting the civil charge in court.
Some county activists proposed raising the fine last year, but the idea failed to gain support.
Police officers yesterday said they believe the red-light cameras have helped reduce accidents by as much as 20 percent at the intersections where they are posted.
Officials have said 14 pedestrians were killed by vehicles last year in the county.
The $1.3 million cost of the extra cameras represents the biggest single item in a proposed $11.3 million budget increase for Montgomery County's police department. The 20 new cameras would bring the total cost of the red-light camera program in Montgomery to almost $2 million.
Opponents of traffic cameras argue that photo enforcement, along with surveillance cameras, are part of a disturbing trend of taking law enforcement from officers and turning it over to technology.
But senior legislative analyst Linda McMillan defended traffic-camera expansion.
"We cannot possibly fund the number of police officers it would take to do traffic enforcement at intersections 24 hours a day," she said yesterday.

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