New signs to alert drivers to red-light camera rules in Laurel

LAUREL, Md. — For the third time in less than two years, the City of Laurel is taking another measure to prevent drivers from getting speed or red- light camera tickets.

Laurel Police worked with AAA Mid-Atlantic after finding that 70 percent of its tickets aren’t for people running straight through a red light.

Instead, most tickets go to drivers making a legal right turn on red, but doing so without stopping before the stop bar, which is illegal.

WTOP Ticketbuster explored the issue earlier in 2014 with actual video from violations to demonstrate the law.

Other jurisdictions don’t track how many tickets are for right turns on red, but in general, where it is measured, these turns account for a majority of the red light camera tickets, not blowing straight through the light.

“As you come into the City of Laurel, it will hopefully be, at least temporarily, eye-catching and bring people back to the awareness that you must stop on red. You must come to a complete stop on red before turning,” says Laurel Police Chief Rich McLaughlin.

“In our program, if there’s an honest attempt to stop, then we don’t issue citations. If there are no brakes, no attempt to stop when making the right turn, then we issue the ticket because we have to be cognizant of the bicyclists and pedestrians sharing the streets,” he adds.

While this is the standard also used in Montgomery County, it is not the standard used in places like Rockville or the District of Columbia. Both jurisdictions tend to strictly enforce the red-light camera laws, without differentiating the degrees of violation.

“I am not sure I agree with making judgment calls on what ‘an honest effort to stop’ may look like,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier says in a statement to WTOP.

“If someone doesn’t come to a complete stop and strikes a pedestrian I am not sure ‘I made an honest effort to stop’ would be viewed the same way. The law requires a complete stop for a reason; to reduce the risk of a collision and injuries,” she adds.

This isn’t the first time Laurel has come up with a new idea on their automated traffic enforcement.

This past March, McLauglin introduced LED displays on the road to let drivers know how fast they’re going before they get to a speed camera. McLaughlin told WTOP that he’d prefer drivers slow down, even if the LED display results in fewer tickets being issued.

In 2013, McLaughlin purchased dummy boxes from contractor Brekford to put up and give drivers the impression there are cameras inside, without actually having any.

“I want to run a transparent program. I think we’re very transparent and fair in our program. This is just another tool. It helps remind the drivers about what they have to do,” says McLaughlin.

AAA Mid-Atlantic applauds that type of thinking and suggests other jurisdictions follow.

The motorist organization has been critical of speed and red light cameras in the District of Columbia and Rockville, but supports them in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Laurel.

“It’s refreshing to be in Laurel where the police chief has a program where he isn’t chasing the dollars. We know there are other systems in our area where it really seems to be get the motorist, get the ticket, get the dollars,” says Lon Anderson of AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“These programs should be about deterring bad behavior and if you’re going to do it, what better way to do it than remind motorists what they need to do to avoid getting a ticket,” he adds.

AAA Mid-Atlantic called on jurisdictions earlier this year across Maryland, D.C. and Virginia to install similar signage so that motorists can be informed and educated about the rules.

“If you’re going to ticket motorists for these right turns on red, make sure that you are obvious about it. Let them know. Shout it from the rooftops. Put signs on your roads that say it,” says Anderson.

“I agree that signage can and should be used to remind people of the law – in fact, there are signs posted at intersections throughout Washington, D.C. advising where ‘right turn on red’ is prohibited,” counters Lanier, although she did not discuss the Laurel signs reminding drivers that the law is stop before turning right.

Anderson says the District of Columbia as a place that could learn from Laurel. He believes too often, the District makes it about revenue.

“Their cameras are ticketing for stop line violations where the driver stops, but does so after the stop line. We’ve seen some pretty egregious examples where the stop line was gone. There’s no stop line. But motorists are being held to stop at that imaginary stop line,” says Anderson.

One such ticket was sent to Carl Bartee. The Bowie resident contacted AAA Mid-Atlantic and WTOP Ticketbuster in April about a red-light camera ticket on New York Avenue NE. MPD agreed to waive the ticket because of the faded stop line.

WUSA9 profiled Bartee and MPD’s efforts to repaint the line.

Lanier addressed the right turns on red issue earlier in September before the City Council.

“Complaining about getting a ticket for not taking a few seconds to come to a complete stop at a red light or stop sign might be a good way to troll for sympathy, but it disregards pedestrian safety and the law. Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to drivers who break the law who don’t stop before the crosswalk,” says Lanier.

“Having been on the scene on multiple pedestrian injuries and fatalities for right turns on red without coming to a complete stop, the least injury I’ve seen is someone losing their leg,” she adds.

Debra Diamond of Baltimore got a ticket under similar circumstances in March. She tells WTOP that she stopped at a red light, but part of her vehicle was past the stop line and in the crosswalk. MPD police issued her a ticket for running the red light, even though she stopped, because she blocked the crosswalk. Diamond considered this an abuse of discretion and an overreach of the law.

Meanwhile, as WTTG Fox 5 reported, and WTOP Ticketbuster can confirm, motorists also get red light camera tickets in the District for being in the wrong lane. Drivers get tickets for being in a left turn lane, then crossing to the correct lane to proceed through the intersection. Police in D.C. say these drivers triggered the sensor for the left turn lane, and disobeyed the red left turn arrow and thus should receive a ticket.

Red light camera fines in the District are $150. In Maryland, tickets are $75 and in Virginia, they’re $50.

If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us the details of your case — along with documentation — to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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