Md. House Passes Speed Camera Bill

Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed legislation to install speed cameras across the state. The House and Senate have approved bills that must be reconciled.
Gov. Martin O'Malley proposed legislation to install speed cameras across the state. The House and Senate have approved bills that must be reconciled. (By Jamie C. Horton -- Associated Press)
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By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 21, 2008

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 90 to 45 yesterday to pass the governor's speed cameras legislation, allowing police departments to install roadside cameras to ticket speeding motorists in work areas, school zones and residential neighborhoods across the state.

The Senate has passed a similar bill. If the two chambers agree on a final version, Maryland would join the District in using cameras to enforce speed limits. In Maryland, speed cameras are legal only in Montgomery County. The legislation would allow the state's 23 other jurisdictions to use the technology.

With no overriding issue commanding attention in Annapolis this legislative session, new driving regulations have become one of the most contentious subjects. After tense debate yesterday, the Senate voted 26 to 21 to make it illegal to use hand-held cellphones while driving. The cellphone ban now heads to the House, but its prospects there are unclear.

The speed camera bill, which was proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), allows the state to install cameras in construction areas. The measure also would authorize local governments to use cameras in school zones and in residential neighborhoods with posted speed limits less than 45 mph. Violators would be fined $40 but would not get points on their licenses.

Del. Charles Barkley (D-Montgomery), a supporter of the measure, said cameras in Montgomery have made the roads safer. "It has slowed people down," he said. "I hope that you will give every community that same opportunity."

The legislation won narrow approval in the Senate this week, with debate in the Democrat-controlled chamber breaking down largely along party lines.

Proponents of the bill have argued that cameras help reduce accidents and make roads safer while freeing police to fight more serious crimes. Opponents said the cameras infringe on civil liberties and have the potential to be abused by police departments trying to increase revenue by setting up speed traps.

"This is a slippery slope about our civil liberties that I take very seriously," said House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington). "In this legislation, an unmanned box takes the place of a police officer. Face-to-face confrontation is lost."

Pending in the Senate is a far-reaching proposal to allow Prince George's County police to install speed cameras on highways. Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's) said his proposal was inspired by last month's deadly crash involving illegal street racers on Route 210 in Accokeek.

In Montgomery, where police began using speed cameras last year, the proportion of drivers traveling at least 10 mph over the speed limit where cameras were mounted decreased about 70 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In a heated debate on the House floor Tuesday, some lawmakers questioned whether the government is enacting too many restrictions on society. Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County) said the bill and other legislation introduced to regulate driving "seeks to criminalize so many aspects of our lives."

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore) countered that speeding is already against the law and that the bill merely gives police new tools for enforcement.

"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."

The bill is enabling legislation, meaning that county governments would first have to vote to use speed cameras in their jurisdictions before police could install them.

The House and Senate will have to reach a compromise on the revenue details of the legislation. The Senate's plan requires that money collected from speeding tickets in excess of the cost of the camera equipment goes to the state. The House plan states that counties would keep the excess revenue and use it for public safety.

O'Malley wants the excess revenue to go to local jurisdictions, O'Malley spokeswoman Christine Hansen said.

Under the cellphone legislation, driving while using a cellphone without a hands-free accessory would be a secondary offense, meaning a violator could be cited if pulled over for another traffic offense.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Michael G. Lenett (D-Montgomery), sparked considerable debate on the Senate floor in recent days.

Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-Baltimore), who supported the bill, said: "I learned to drive with two hands on the wheel, and that's how we should continue to learn to drive."

Sen. Rona E. Kramer (D-Montgomery) was skeptical that the ban would make a difference in highway safety. She cited studies saying that hands-free phone accessories do not make drivers safer, but burden them with new costs.

Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's) said Maryland was becoming a "nanny state" and called the bill "an affront to rural Maryland," where residents often conduct business on their cellphones while they drive.

Staff writer Lisa Rein contributed to this report.

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