- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday ordered the state police to stop using night-vision devices to catch drivers who are not wearing seat belts.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, said the directive will not deter troopers from using conventional tactics to ticket drivers who don’t buckle up.

“State troopers will continue to use all appropriate resources to ensure that Maryland’s drivers are buckled up,” he said, responding to complaints about the high-tech tactics.

Maryland State Police first used night-vision monoculars for three hours Wednesday night in Rockville as part of a pilot program to increase enforcement of the state’s seat-belt law.

The practice, however, provoked the ire of Marylanders, including a stream of people who called talk-radio shows, who said it was an invasion of privacy.

When Mr. Ehrlich appeared Saturday on the WBAL-AM “Stateline” program, he said the night-vision plan “caused a lot of anger when I found out about it.”

Troopers issued 111 citations among nearly 3,200 vehicles that passed through the night-vision surveillance zone Wednesday night, said state police spokesman Maj. Greg Shipley.

“We will continue to carry out the governor’s mandate of keeping the highways safe,” Maj. Shipley said yesterday. “We just will not be employing this specific method.”

Maryland’s seat-belt law requires all drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seat belts or face a $25 fine.

The law also requires any passenger 15 years old or younger to be in a seat belt or child-safety seat, regardless of the passenger’s seating position in a vehicle. The law applies to all passenger cars, trucks, multipurpose vehicles, truck tractors and some passenger buses.

State police have issued more than 30,000 seat-belt citations and warnings this year.

Since 1997, police have had the authority to stop a driver for not wearing a seat belt and issue a citation. However, seat-belt citations typically are issued subsequent to a traffic stop for a separate violation, Maj. Shipley said.

The equipment used in the seat-belt crackdown was borrowed from other agencies for the pilot program, Maj. Shipley said, adding that the equipment already has been returned to those agencies.

Mr. Ehrlich was not aware of the program before it was implemented, Maj. Shipley said.

The governor said the seat-belt law remains a worthwhile public-safety measure that saved lives. Of the 643 persons who died in traffic accidents last year in Maryland, just over half, or 325, were not wearing seat belts.

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