By SHARAHN D. BOYKIN, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Police officers around the state may soon be wired.
If legislation being proposed to the Maryland General Assembly is passed, the state trooper writing your next ticket may be armed with a laptop computer and portable printer. Information will be entered into a software program and a paper copy of the ticket - an e-citation, if you will - will be printed on the spot.
"The less time we spend on the side of the road on a traffic stop with the violator . . . the better off we are," Col. Thomas E. Hutchins, the superintendent of state police, told a Senate committee Thursday.
Currently 12 states use electronic citations, and 10 states have pilot programs according to a report by the Office of Justice Programs and the Department of Transportation.
In Maryland, officers are required to write a citation for each violation, which takes between five to ten minutes, according to a proposal submitted by Judge Ben C. Clyburn, chief judge of the Maryland District Court. E-ticketing would allow officers to save time by including multiple violations on one citation.
Often, Clyburn said, half the time an officer spends issuing a ticket is used trying to get the motorist to sign the citation. This can then lead to a dangerous argument or confrontation.
The State Highway Administration has spent $500,000 to the project, and the District Court provided $75,000.
Current law requires motorists to acknowledge receipt of a citation with a signature. It is not clear yet whether motorists will be required to sign a paper ticket, provide an electronic signature or not sign anything at all.
Between January 2005 and June 2006, 65 state troopers were injured on the side of the road, Hutchins told senate committee members. The cost of the injuries alone totaled $165,000, he said.
The system would also reduce the amount of paper and time spent processing citations, Clyburn said. Currently, 28 court employees manually process the 1.3 million citations each year, he said.
In addition to officers being able to issue faster, more legible tickets, the system would allow information on traffic violators to be uploaded to the court traffic system and eventually give violators the option of paying traffic fines online. It would also establish a system to quickly notify officers they no longer have to appear in court. "We will no longer have the pony express," Clyburn told Senate committee members, in describing the significance of the technological advance.