- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — When it comes to resistance to speed cameras — from motorists who don’t want tickets to privacy advocates concerned about Big Brother — a dramatic accident with a high body count can help clear legislative objections to new laws, observers say.

Speed camera supporters in Maryland think eight deaths this month at an illegal drag race prove more needs to be done to cut down on reckless driving. Lawmakers plan to introduce legislation in coming days to allow police to install speed cameras in Prince George’s County, where the deaths happened on a dark stretch of isolated highway a little over a week ago.

“If this doesn’t get peoples’ attention I don’t know what will,” said Sen. James C. Rosapepe, Prince George’s Democrat.

Gov. Martin O’Malley is pushing for legislation that would allow authorities to use speed cameras statewide in work zones, neighborhoods and around schools. The measure sponsored by the Prince George’s County delegation goes much further — at least locally — because it would allow police to use them wherever they believe they are needed.

Lawmakers have questioned the administration’s speed camera proposal because of privacy concerns and for fear it would reduce the number of routine traffic stops that result in important arrests. Also, some motorists believe it’s just a gambit to extract money from their wallets.

But Sen. James N. Robey, Howard Democrat who worked as a police officer for more than 30 years and recalls fast driving as a top complaint, said extra revenue isn’t the reason speed cameras are needed. Mr. Robey, who wants speed cameras in Howard, said revenue drops off once people get the message that speed laws will be enforced.

Supporters point to Montgomery County, which became the first county in Maryland to use speed cameras last year, after the General Assembly approved its proposal to implement them in residential areas and school zones with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. County authorities say the cameras appear to have slowed drivers.

Currently, speed cameras are used in about 35 jurisdictions across the country, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit group representing highway safety offices throughout the nation. They are being used in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and the District. Arizona is the only state to use cameras in a statewide program.

Police have identified about 10 spots in the county where the cameras could be used. The cameras would be administered by the county’s public works department and would not track drivers’ speeds.

Police Chief Melvin C. High said the goal was to give police a tool to keep track of an underground sport that largely evades police scrutiny.

“Everything about it is designed to avoid police intervention,” Chief High said.

AP writer Stephen Manning contributed to this report.

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