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Traffic safety or revenue raiser?

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on October 08, 2001:

Senator Dyson By now, you or someone you know has received an unexpected traffic ticket from the Baltimore City, Prince Georgeís County, Washington, D.C. or some other local police department in the Washington-Baltimore area for doing something you may not know you did -- running a red light.

In 1997, a bill that I opposed, passed the General Assembly that would bring Big Brother to our local roadways. This legislation authorized local law enforcement agencies to mail a citation to the owner of a vehicle that is recorded by a traffic control signal monitoring system running a red light.

Needless to say, since these tickets have been arriving in peopleís mailboxes, this particular law has drawn a considerable amount of criticism -- much of it merited.

What is particularly galling to me is that this appears to be a moneymaking scheme by local jurisdictions, not an effort to bolster traffic safety. I wonder where this money is going since the law does not mandate that it go to the State Highway Administration for road improvements or to local or state police agencies. These jurisdictions can use the money received from these tickets on anything they see fit.

The way the money for these tickets is processed has drawn big controversy and forced a change in policy. For example, Lockheed Martin IMS which installed the cameras in Baltimore City and other counties in the state has collected nearly $3.4 million of the $9.5 million the ticket revenue generated. Thatís more than 30 percent. Other companies that have installed cameras in Anne Arundel, Charles and Howard counties were collecting a fee per citation. They have since changed their policy to accepting a flat monthly fee. Still, despite this concession to mounting criticism, these companies are reaping big rewards because of this law and that doesnít sit right with me and many of my constituents.

Another aspect of this extremely flawed law is that it is yet another example of Big Brother intruding on our privacy.

George Orwellís 1948 novel, 1984 wasnít a particularly great piece of writing. But it did have a formidable villain in Big Brother. At the time, people scoffed at what turned out to be Orwellís prophecy. If he were alive today, Orwell would most likely look at those imposing cameras taking pictures of cars at intersections where they are placed and say, ďI told you so.Ē

I believe in doing everything we can to make our roads safer. I just recently requested that the State Highway Administration install a traffic light at a dangerous intersection in my district and a warning signal before another hazardous intersection.

But these cameras are a different story. I question their constitutionality for one thing. The law states that you have the right to face your accuser in court. How can you state your case against an inanimate object?

There are also other problems with these cameras. Traffic is only getting worse in our area and there is virtual gridlock at times at various places in Southern Maryland. I refer to morning and afternoon traffic on Route 301 in Waldorf, on Route 5 in Hughesville, Route 4 in Prince Frederick and Dunkirk and Route 235 in Lexington Park.

Several times, Iíve been at these intersections and proceeded through a green light, only to be stuck in the middle of the intersection because of a sudden traffic backup. If there is a camera there, it will take my picture and Iíll be saddled with a ticket even though I didnít do anything wrong.

This law takes the human element out of law enforcement. For instance, many people have gotten tickets because they went through a red light to make way for a police officer, firemen or emergency medical technicians. Others have been fined for running red lights while participating in a funeral procession. There are also reports of people being ticketed who are directed to go through the red light by a police officer directing traffic at an accident scene.

This new technology just takes the pictures, police officers process them and then send out the citation without having any idea that a special circumstance may have caused someone to go through a red light.

I also have a large family and often let some of them borrow my car. If one of them runs one of these lights, Iím the one to foot the bill.

I strongly believe it is up to our law enforcement officials to apprehend those who run red lights. Those egregious offenders are the ones we need to be most worried about because they are putting other innocent people in harm ís way. Ironically, these types of offenders who are not apprehended by officers receive only a fine and no points. If an officer were to stop the offender, the officer would write out a ticket for a higher amount and points.

Currently, Calvert and St. Maryís counties have not adopted this law and it is my strong desire that they do not. However, Charles County has adopted this measure so beware of the intersections of Route 301 and Acton Lane and Route 301 and Route 5 where these cameras are currently installed when you visit our neighboring county.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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