Speed Cameras Advance In Md.

By Philip Rucker and Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Maryland Senate voted narrowly yesterday to authorize local police departments to use roadside cameras to enforce speed limits. The House of Delegates, also debating speed camera legislation, soundly rejected several amendments that would have weakened the bill.

The actions signaled that the General Assembly is nearing consensus to extend statewide a speed camera system that is currently legal only in Montgomery County. Permitting cameras in road work zones, near schools and in residential neighborhoods is a top public safety priority for Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), but the bills have prompted heated debate.

Meanwhile, legislation to prohibit the use of hand-held cellphones while driving in Maryland received preliminary approval in the Senate. Last week, senators amended the bill to ban only text messaging while driving, but the Senate voted by a slim margin yesterday to reverse course and restore the broader ban on all hand-held cellphone use.

The bill making it illegal to drive while using a cellphone without a hands-free accessory appeared headed for final passage in the Senate, and a key House leader said it could gain enough momentum to pass in the House.

Maryland would join the District in allowing speed cameras and banning hand-held cellphones. Virginia does not allow speed cameras and has no cellphone prohibition.

The speed camera bill that passed the Maryland Senate 26 to 21 would allow the state to install speed cameras in construction areas. It would also authorize local governments to use speed cameras in school zones and in residential neighborhoods with posted speed limits under 45 mph.

The debate has broken down largely along party lines in the Democrat-controlled legislature.

Some lawmakers argued that the cameras help reduce accidents and make roads safer while freeing police to combat more serious crimes. "This bill is about good policing," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), who chairs the Environmental Matters Committee, which backed the proposal.

Opponents said the cameras infringe on civil liberties. They argued that cameras could be abused by police departments trying to make money by setting speed traps.

"We believe that this is an encroachment upon our civil liberties," Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil) said.

Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County) said the bill and other legislation "seeks to criminalize so many aspects of our lives."

But McIntosh countered that speeding is already against the law and that the bill merely gives police new tools to enforce it. "They're breaking the law," she said. "You want to worry about them? Worry about them. But I believe the majority of us on this floor are worried about safety."

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