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Laurel wants to warn drivers of potential tickets with turns by red-light camera

Thursday - 4/3/2014, 4:54am  ET

REDLIGHT.JPG
This red-light camera on northbound Van Dusen Road near 198 will start issuing tickets later this month. Laurel police want to add new signs to warn drivers to stop before making right turns on red near cameras such as this. (Courtesy Laurel Mayor Craig Moe)

LAUREL, Md. -- As the City of Laurel comes closer to activating a new red-light camera on Van Dusen Road near Route 198, police are also looking at new traffic signs that will warn drivers about a specific type of turn and its potential to give them a ticket.

In Maryland, right turns are legal on red lights, but only after the driver comes to a complete stop before the stop line. Maryland Annotated Code 21-202 allows 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."

Similar laws exist in the District of Columbia and Virginia.

"Most intersections where you have a right turn on red are in close proximity to a crosswalk. You are going to have people that are crossing. If you don't stop, you stand a much higher chance of hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk," says Laurel Police Chief Rich McLaughlin.

Some red-light cameras capture drivers turning right on red and give them tickets if they don't make complete stops or don't stop before the crosswalk.

Anything the city can do to remind drivers to stop behind the line and look both ways before proceeding with a turn is important, he says.

"I think that any driver behavior modification is a win," McLaughlin says.

He says he hopes to have the cameras in place before the new town center is running, which he says will increase traffic throughout the city.

AAA Mid-Atlantic has called on jurisdictions to consider putting up signs in the road to instruct drivers about right-turn-on-red violations. While precise statistics aren't kept in Maryland, most police in the region agree that such violations make up a vast majority of the red-light camera tickets. Drivers going straight through a red light are comparatively rare.

McLaughlin agrees that signs are a good idea. He has spent months researching the policies in other cities and towns across the country, hoping to find a road sign that would warn drivers about how to make a proper right turn on red.

"I can't find anything that clearly states that ... which you would think would be something that's in existence; however, it's not. We may have come up with something on our own, something that'll make it clear that you have to stop at all red lights, even when you're turning right," says McLaughlin.

But as WTOP reported in January, different jurisdictions apply the law in different ways.

Montgomery County uses discretion while applying the law, whereas the District of Columbia and Rockville follow the strict letter of the law. Prince George's County cameras are not equipped to ticket right-turn violations, but will be able to soon. Police are currently discussing how to enforce the law. Laurel also uses discretion.

"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 McLaughlin.

He adds that the same standard applies to drivers who stop in the crosswalk in a straight lane at a red light. Montgomery and Prince George's counties use similar standards.

Laurel police have also installed a new red-light camera on northbound Van Dusen Road at Maryland Route 198. Tickets will start being issued later this month.

John Townsend of AAA Mid-Atlantic praises McLaughlin's efforts, saying that he continues to find ways to prioritize safety over profit. Laurel has a track record of outside-the-box thinking in their automated enforcement program.

Last month, Laurel put up speed displays on two speed cameras. The displays tell drivers on Montgomery Street how fast they're going before they reach the camera, allowing them to slow down and avoid a ticket. In April 2013, Laurel spent thousands of dollars to put up decoy boxes with no cameras inside. The decoy boxes generate no revenue, but slow drivers down.

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