LEST THERE STILL BE the slightest misunderstanding among the terrified pedestrians or traumatized motorists in the District's neighboring states, our continuing complaints about red-light runners are by no means limited to in-city lawbreakers. As readers have noted, these threats to life and limb occur with alarming frequency at intersections throughout the suburbs, making it just as dangerous to go on green there as it has become downtown. We still don't know, however, what it will take to spur some tougher actions on the part of Greater Washington's mayors, county executives and other local officials to crack down on those who plow through red lights with astounding abandon.
At least there is some concern at the statewide level in Maryland, where a House of Delegates committee is looking at legislation to make the punishments more severe for offenders. At a hearing in Annapolis Thursday, a spokesman for the Automobile Club of Maryland testified that the state is facing a "critical epidemic of red-light jumping," and urged that anyone convicted of such an offense be fined at least $50 or face 15 days in jail." He added that studies show drivers are tending to accelerate when a green light changes to yellow -- instead of slowing down for the red.
Delegate Tom Mooney of Prince George's County is sponsoring a measure that would raise the minimum fine for a first offense to $50, from its current $30, and establish more severe fines and jail terms longer than 15 days for second and third offenses. Leaving aside those instances not spotted by police, Mr. Mooney said records show a 25 percent increase from 1981 to 1983 in the number of citations issued in Maryland for failing to stop at a red light. And he cites decreases in pedestrian fatalities in areas where the sanctions have been toughened.
It's difficult to know what "price" would be the best deterrent. In the District, a red-light runner may face a $75 fine and two points on his driver's license -- but you wouldn't know it if you stood on any corner of K Street NW on a weekday. And if police ever could round up every red-runner on a given day, there would be standing room only at the D.C. Jail. Start with a better police presence at key intersections -- officers with ticket books ready. Sure, the effect lasts only as long as the campaign; but if a few people last a little longer, it's worth it.