As City Expands, Police Push for Red-Light Cameras
Proponents Say Device Increases Safety; Foes Fear an Invasion of Drivers' Privacy
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2004; Page C05
The debate over whether red-light cameras benefit public safety or simply abet -- and enrich -- Big Brother's intrusiveness has arrived in the city of Frederick, where officials are studying the possibility of installing the devices to regulate traffic at its most dangerous intersections.
In another sign of the city's transformation from a rural county seat into a busy suburb, the Frederick Police Department urged the Board of Aldermen last month to authorize the establishment of a red-light camera program in the city. After fielding questions about their efficacy and the need for cameras, the police department is expected to return to City Hall in the next few weeks with statistics and studies for officials to consider.
"The city is growing, people are coming, and everybody's in a hurry," Police Chief Kim C. Dine said.
But the proposal already has generated some sparks.
"They're horrible. They should be banished from the face of the Earth," said Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick), who has introduced legislation to eliminate them.
A mounted red-light camera takes pictures of a vehicle after sensors detect that the traffic light has turned red and the offending vehicle has entered the intersection. Although early models took snapshots, newer devices record several seconds of digital videotape.
Mooney, whose district includes Frederick and Washington counties, knows about red-light cameras firsthand. He said he had to take a day off work to contest a red-light camera violation in Prince George's County after someone stole his 1999 Saturn before the 2003 General Assembly session. Another such ticket was slapped on his car in Virginia. Both tickets were dismissed.
Mooney said he objects to a practice that treats people as guilty before proven innocent. He said the devices are nothing more than an underhanded effort by cash-strapped municipalities to raise money. "They're un-American," he said.
In 2003, the city of Frederick had 69 accidents at intersections controlled by traffic signals, and the primary cause was red-light running, Lt. Shawn Martyak said.
The most likely candidates for the red-light cameras are the busy intersections along Route 40 west of Frederick, a four-lane strip of fast-food chains, shopping plazas and malls known as "the Golden Mile." The road also runs east and west between heavily traveled Interstate 70 and Route 15.
In 2003, the year for which the most recent statistics are available, the Maryland State Highway Administration counted 15 accidents at the intersection of Route 40 and Hillcrest Drive, said MHA spokeswoman Kellie Boulware.
Other problem Route 40 intersections include those at Baughman's Lane and McCain Drive, Thomas Johnson Drive and Oppossumtown Pike.
If adopted, the city would join a growing list of jurisdictions that have contracted with vendors to install red-light cameras.
Howard County was the first jurisdiction in Maryland to use red-light cameras. Maryland and Virginia are among 14 states that employ the devices, as does the District.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company