RSS Feeds

Rockville red-light ticket opens debate on the law

Thursday - 4/3/2014, 4:03pm  ET

The picture taken by the red-light camera when Mike Ficco stopped in the intersection before making a legal right turn. (Courtesy Mike Ficco)

ROCKVILLE, Md. -- A Maryland man who received a $75 red-light camera ticket in Rockville believes the city targets drivers to raise revenue, not for safety.

Mike Ficco received a ticket on Feb. 18, 2014 at 9:09 am at West Gude Drive at Gaither Road in Rockville. The video shows Ficco completely stopped before making a right turn on red, but his full stop occurred after the stop line.

Maryland Annotated Code 21-202 (h) is the law that deals with the issue, allowing for drivers to make a right turn only after "stopping at the near side of the intersection, at a clearly marked stop line; if there is no clearly marked stop line, before entering any crosswalk; or if there is no crosswalk, before entering the intersection."

Ficco was shocked.

"I don't run red lights. I'm a safe driver. I didn't really pay much attention to the white stripe because I was interested in safely turning and not running into the traffic that is crossing, or hit any pedestrians," he says.

"I understand the text of the law. But I think the spirit of the law is about safe driving and if you view the video, I think there's no question I was driving in a safe fashion."

AAA Mid-Atlantic agrees that tickets like these shouldn't be issued.

"Rockville police cites Maryland Law TA 21-202(h) to justify the practice. However, this was not the original intent or the legislative intent of the law. It was designed to combat egregious, intentional and wanton cases of red-light running or barreling through an intersection once signal turns red," says John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic Manager of Public and Government Affairs.

At issue are the questions: Should drivers receive red-light camera tickets for coming to a complete stop while in the crosswalk? If the car isn't blocking the intersection, but didn't stop behind the stop line, is the driver violating the law and posing a significant safety risk to others?

Rockville believe the answer is yes.

"The law requires a complete cessation of movement. If the vehicle is completely passed the stop bar, yes, the driver will get a ticket. But we will not ticket if part of the vehicle is behind the stop bar," says Rockville City Maj. Michael England, who oversees the red-light camera program.

He believes stopping a vehicle in the crosswalk before making a right turn on red poses a significant safety risk to pedestrians and other drivers.

"When you're making a right turn on red, if you're not coming to a full a complete stop behind the stop bar, you have to look off to your left for oncoming traffic. You are not looking off to your right for an pedestrian conflicts. So if come to a complete stop behind the stop bar, you have the time and opportunity to look and see if there are any pedestrians cross to your right," says England.

As WTOP reported in 2013, Rockville saw a huge spike in tickets when it started cracking down on these types of right turns in late 2012. Since then, Rockville City Police say the numbers significantly dropped.

In the first two months of 2014, Rockville issued 3,212 red-light camera tickets, according to records obtained by WTOP. In 2013, there were 2,124 tickets issued in the same period. Overall in 2013, Rockville issued 22,649 red light camera tickets. The average red-light camera in Rockville now issues about 167 tickets per month, versus May 2013 when the average camera issued 302 tickets.

But other Maryland jurisdictions told WTOP their standards are more liberal than Rockville.

"If there's an honest attempt to make a stop, even though you're past the stop bar, citations are not be issued. So if there's a well intentioned attempt to stop, and you do come to a stop, but you're in the crosswalk, you're not getting a citation," says Laurel Police Chief Rich McLaughlin.

WTOP didn't ask McLaughlin to comment on the Ficco ticket itself, but it's possible that Ficco may have missed a ticket if the incident happened in Laurel.

Some other jurisdictions also apply Laurel's standard.

In a WTOP story in January, Montgomery County Police Captain Thomas Didone said, "In Montgomery County, we're looking to enforce people who disregard red lights. If you don't make a viable attempt to stop, then you're eligible for a ticket. We give our approvers some extra discretion, so if it appears they attempted to stop, or they stopped in the middle of the turn, the approvers can void the citation."

   1 2  -  Next page  >>

© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.