Rules of the road
When I asked readers whether there are subjects they would like to see addressed here, one expressed interest in my “takes on life in and around Baltimore City,” For that reader I want to explain my satisfaction in the increasing number of speed cameras and red-light cameras in the city.
In the main, Baltimore drivers are like American drivers everywhere. They see use of the turn signal as a sign of weakness. Those who drive SUVs imagine that the purchase of a large, expensive, vulgar piece of machinery grants an exemption from Newton’s laws of motion. No one understands the meaning of signs advising YIELD—perhaps too many letters?
But it is distinctive here that one of the favorite local pastimes is driving through red lights and stop signs. That is why the informal rules of the road here, as opposed to those fussy statutes that no one pays much mind to, require you to pause one beat, two beats, three beats, after the light turns green before proceeding.
I observed the Baltimore Pause one day at the intersection of Harford Road and Hamilton Avenue and still was nearly broadsided by a woman sailing through the intersection. (She was gabbing on a cellphone at the time. The prohibition against talking on a cellphone while operating an automobile is another of those fussy little statutes.)
So I welcomed the arrival of the red-light cameras, which have had some effect in curtailing the practice.
Then came the speed cameras, which have produced howls of outrage. A couple of my colleagues, The Sun’s esteemed local columnist Dan Rodricks and the estimable business columnist Jay Hancock, have railed against speed cameras in print, suggesting that they are an infringement on personal liberty and a low scheme to fill municipal coffers.
I demur. I drive to and from work on stretches of Perring Parkway and Hillen Road that some drivers apparently mistake for the Bonneville salt flats. I once turned the corner at Hillen Road and 31st Street to see an SUV lying upside down in the median—and wondered just how fast one has to be traveling to accomplish that.
The speed cameras are set so that you don’t get nicked until you exceed twelve miles in excess of the posted limit. That’s thirty-five on the broader streets, twenty-five on neighborhood streets and the more crowded areas. So I figure if your need is so urgent to be doing fifty or fifty-five miles an hour on a city street, you ought to be in an ambulance, not an automobile.*
As to the money, I have suggested before, and repeat here, that drivers who get dinged for exceeding the speed limit might just think about the fine as a toll. People who want to get somewhere faster pay for the privilege on the Dulles Toll Road and the Intercounty Connector. If you want to drive fast in Baltimore, go ahead. And pony up.
*I, too, have been nicked. Preoccupied, I exceeded the limit and got caught by a speed camera near a school and paid the forty-dollar-fine, taking it as a reminder of the unwisdom of driving while distracted.