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Move to add radar cameras put on fast track

By Fulvio Cativo
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, MD – Speed cameras are back.

Some lawmakers are supporting a new bill to set up a five-year pilot program for the radar devices in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed legislation last year that would have authorized all localities to install the technology to catch and ticket speeders.

"There were some real privacy concerns that the governor had with regard to that bill," Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said. "I don't think the governor would be very enthusiastic about a similar bill this year.

Delegate William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery, introduced the new legislation to target speeders in residential and school zones where the speed limit is 35 mph or less. The two target counties, he said, face pedestrian accident problems and want to crackdown on speeders -- problems he said the cameras could curb.

In Prince George's County there were 103 pedestrian deaths between 1997 and 2001, according to a CASA of Maryland study titled "Pedestrian Safety in Crisis: Latino Deaths on the International Corridor."

Between 1997 and 2001, there were more pedestrian fatalities than homicides in Montgomery County. Pedestrian deaths rose from 11 to 18 from 1997 to 1999, according to a 2002 Montgomery County Report.

"Speed kills," Bronrott said. "It is a leading killer of Marylanders on our roadways and it is a particular threat in far too many of our neighborhoods and school zones."

Local governments criticized the governor for rejecting last year's legislation.

"This is smart law enforcement," said David Weaver, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan, who said cameras would help keep tabs on speeders without diverting local police. "We can increase enforcement without increasing personnel."

Local governments would purchase the speed cameras, Bronrott said. Fines would be about $75 and no points would be assessed on a driver's license. If passed, the five-year pilot program would operate until 2009 and then county councils would report to the General Assembly on the program's effectiveness.

Cost of the cameras varies from $25,000 to $100,000, which is typically repaid with revenue generated from tickets, according to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Foreign countries and Washington, D.C., use speed cameras and have cut down speeding and road risks, Bronrott added.

The District is the only East Coast jurisdiction to use speed cameras. It has used mobile speed cameras since 2001 and Thursday it installed its first stationary speed camera in the 600 block of Florida Avenue NE.

Jackie Gillan, chairwoman of the Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee in Montgomery County said the technology used in radar cameras is already used to catch people who don't pay tolls when crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

"If you race through a school zone, this administration doesn't think you need to be given a ticket but if you blow through a toll booth they're going to send you a ticket," Gillan said.

When he vetoed last year's camera bill, the governor, in a written letter, said the Department of Transportation – which requested the veto – acknowledged cameras would reduce speed, but found no data to support that they would also reduce accidents.

Bronrott disputed that and added the bill speaks for itself.

"There is no good reason why crossing the street should be or even feel like a death-defying act," he said.