ANNAPOLIS – State senators passed legislation Wednesday that, if approved by their counterparts in the House and signed into law, would allow police to use radar cameras in residential areas and school zones to deter speeding motorists.
The 30-17 vote, largely along party lines, pitted road safety advocates against legislators who fear an intrusive government.
House lawmakers could take up the radar camera bill as early as Friday.
Under the proposed law, motorists caught driving more than 10 miles per hour over the limit in residential neighborhoods or school zones would be fined $100, but would not have points applied to their license.
Proponents say cameras would discourage drivers from cutting through neighborhoods at high speeds.
Similar efforts failed in committee twice before.
“People say this is about Big Brother or about raising money,” said Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, the bill’s primary sponsor. “I say it’s about traffic and pedestrian safety.”
Forehand cites a survey she conducted in her Gaithersburg district, where 71 percent of respondents favored cameras to help reduce speeding.
It would be up to county and municipal governments to decide whether they want cameras in their jurisdictions.
“People in neighborhoods are really crying out for this,” she said.
Fines would go first to financing the camera system, the bill says, and then to safety programs.
Supporters include the Maryland Municipal League, the Maryland Association of Counties and the Association of Maryland Sheriffs.
But some lawmakers see ulterior motives, like diverting money to programs that have little or no relationship to pedestrian safety.
A spokesman for Gov. Robert Ehrlich said it would “take a lot a convincing” for the governor to sign the legislation.
Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, battled the bill with a reading from a Washington Times column about the District of Columbia’s experience with radar cameras.
“`If the government has the right to watch us unbeknownst on the streets, soon these cameras will be monitoring us in the privacy of our own homes,'” Mooney recited from the March 10 edition. “`Drivers beware: Uncle Sam is watching.'”
Maryland law already allows the use of cameras at intersections to fine motorists caught running red lights.
Several unsuccessful attempts were made to weaken the bill.
One provision would have required a warning, not a citation, be mailed for the first camera offense.
Another proposed amendment would have barred the sponsor’s four counties – Cecil, Kent, Caroline and Queen Anne’s – from using radar. A third would have raised the threshold for citations from 10 miles per hour over the posted limit to 15 miles per hour.
“The real purpose is to raise revenue for local governments, and that’s inappropriate,” Mooney said. “Most states still want to uphold the constitutional value of being innocent until proven guilty.”