- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A proposal to install speed cameras along highway work zones throughout Maryland got a cool reception yesterday from lawmakers, who said many motorists view the idea as a money trap and not a way to improve highway safety.

The Maryland Department of Transportation wants lawmakers to change state law to allow the speed cameras. Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari argued that cameras would prove to be invaluable tools for improving highway worker safety and reducing speed-related accidents.

“I want to emphasize this is about safety, not a revenue measure,” Mr. Porcari told a House committee.

He said highway workers have little protection from speeding drivers.

“Sometimes we only have an orange cone between our highway workers and the motorists,” Mr. Porcari said.

A speed camera bill passed the Maryland Senate in 2003, but not the House. The cameras already are in use in parts of Montgomery County, the District and three states: Illinois, Oregon and Washington. Maryland lawmakers don’t have a bill proposing a speed camera law, but Mr. Porcari said one is coming. It hasn’t been determined whether a speed camera ticket would put points on a driving record.

Transportation officials said the cameras are needed in Maryland because work zones often have no shoulders and narrow lanes, making traditional traffic stops difficult for police.

“It is necessary for us to try to address the speed of vehicles approaching these work zones,” said Neil J. Pedersen of the State Highway Administration.

Lawmakers brought up many objections, from privacy concerns to the perception that the cameras are simply an easy source of revenue for police departments.

“Some people have the sense that they are a cash cow,” said Delegate Saqib Ali, Montgomery Democrat.

Another Democrat said she worried that police may not keep the video cameras in top shape to accurately register speed. Red-light violations are an easy yes-or-no question, but Delegate Anne Healey questioned whether speeding would be equally appropriate for camera enforcement. She asked about the wisdom of giving police a monetary incentive to use inaccurate cameras.

“There’s a motivation there,” said Mrs. Healey, Prince George’s Democrat.

Several lawmakers complained that road construction projects last months or years with little observable progress, which explains why some motorists speed through them.

“That seems to work against the work zone being taken seriously,” Mrs. Healey said.

Transportation officials replied that it can take up to four weeks for concrete to set, and that speed cameras would not be used unless a police officer was on site and work was being performed.

There were also fears that camera tickets could someday replace traditional traffic stops. House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert and St. Mary’s Republican, pointed out that many criminals are caught through routine traffic stops that reveal outstanding warrants.

“A lot of the benefits of having an officer stop,” Mr. O’Donnell said, “is we catch people in the net.”

Police officers who testified in favor of speed cameras said the devices would improve crime prevention, not hurt it, because officers could spend less time on roadsides monitoring work zones.

“Photo enforcement acts as a force multiplier,” said Lt. Ronald Smith of the Montgomery County Police Department, which uses speed cameras.

The transportation officials and the officers were questioned thoroughly by committee members, but afterward said they were making headway persuading lawmakers to sign off on using the cameras.

“As the decision-makers become more familiar with the safeguards and the procedures, the more comfortable they’ll get with the fairness of the process,” said Hyattsville Police Chief Douglas K. Holland.

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