Maryland Regulates All That Traffic Can Bear: Some Call It Safety, Others Liberalism

Article excerpt

ANNAPOLIS - Maryland lawmakers know what's good for you - and you'd better do it or else.

Don't try to drive in the rain without turning on your headlights. Don't run a red light, or a hidden camera will snap a photograph. And don't even think of driving past a cop with your seat belt unbuckled or your stereo blaring.

Traditionally, Maryland has been a big-government kind of state, the sort of state that will, as a Montgomery County Council member once fumed, "legislate common sense."

The just-concluded General Assembly session did little to change that perception.

The legislature passed all three new traffic laws - and many more that strike some civil libertarians as a bit much.

"The safety Nazis were out in full force this year," said Delegate Donald Murphy, Baltimore County Republican.

Legislators, for example, allowed police to start pulling over and ticketing motorists for not wearing a seat belt. Previously, police could only write seat-belt tickets if the motorist did something else wrong first, such as exceed the speed limit.

In addition to requiring headlights in the rain and banning loud stereos on state roads, the legislature also allowed local governments to mount cameras at intersections to photograph red-light runners - and ticket the vehicle owners by mail.

The legislature also forbade children to buy butane-based lighters and canisters for fear the kids might inhale the gas.

"I think there is some insensitivity to personal liberty issues," House Minority Leader Robert Flanagan, Howard County Republican, said.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, meanwhile, proposed a series of new entitlement progams, including free college tuition for middle-class students and free health care for working-poor families. Both measures failed but had significant support in the legislature and may resurface in future sessions. "We have a persistent old-guard liberalism down here" in Annapolis, Delegate Barrie Ciliberti, Montgomery County Republican, said. "There's an idea that government needs to be involved with everything."

"I think there's a little bit of that, yes," House Speaker Casper Taylor , Allegany County Democrat, conceded. "But I think it is driven by an honest motive to protect people and to create public safety."

"Big government" legislation is nothing new in the Free State. …