Speeding is so endemic these days that there aren't enough police officers to satisfy all the complaints Howard County officials get about heedless motorists rushing through residential neighborhoods.
"It's the No. 1 complaint in county government. The reality is, we all speed," said Del. Guy Guzzone, a former county councilman.
Guzzone, like other state legislators, is expecting another General Assembly debate over legislation to allow local governments to install automated speed cameras that can safely catch more speeders - who would get expensive tickets but would not get points on their licenses - than any police radar team in history.
State Sen. James N. Robey, a former county executive and county police chief, hopes to help spearhead the move for speed-camera authority next year, he said.
He noted a recent accident in which five teenagers in a speeding Acura on Gray Rock Drive in Ellicott City hit a speed hump that was intended to slow motorists. Instead, it launched the Acura into the air and all five teenagers went to the hospital.
"This is the 21st century. We have technology to save lives. It will save dollars and save lives," he said of the cameras.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman wants the authority to install cameras, and he has announced a moratorium on the installation of any more speed humps or other so-called traffic-calming devices that many residents want.
He told an angry Diane Butler at a community meeting last month that St. Johns Lane south of Frederick Road will not get more speed humps until he sees whether the next General Assembly approves legislation to allow use of the cameras.
Butler said her neighborhood was promised more speed humps years ago. She complained that narrow St. Johns Lane has become a commuter shortcut from U.S. 40 to Route 103 and nearby Route 100.
But Ulman sees the cameras as a help in achieving one of his top goals - putting more police on the streets to stop crime.
"The more police officers that no longer have to spend as much time with speed enforcement, the more officers we have to be pro-active and tackle crime," Ulman said.
Montgomery County has the cameras, and now Baltimore officials want them, too. Because of a change in governors, the chances for enactment of a law authorizing the cameras are better in 2008 than in 2003, when the General Assembly approved a speed-camera bill that then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed. Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he favors the idea.
"Jim Robey, in particular, has told me that he's going to push for it statewide, but at a minimum he's going to work hard for Howard County." Ulman said. "My biggest concern is neighborhood speeding."
While most people complain about speeders, few drivers think they speed, said Del. Gail H. Bates, who recalls conversations with residents when she worked in county government a decade ago.
She supported and helped get red-light cameras in Howard County, but she, like the two other Republican county legislators, opposes speed cameras.
"With speed, it just is a money-maker because there can't be any points added and that's where you get the penalty for speeding," she said. Red-light cameras operate the same way, though. Drivers caught going through a red light get a ticket, but no points because the camera cannot prove who was driving. She acknowledged that since the death of county police Cpl. Scott Wheeler, who was hit by a motorist during a radar speeding stop, pressure will be greater for cameras.
Republicans Del. Warren E. Miller and state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman also oppose the cameras, as does Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., a Democrat and retired Baltimore County police officer.
"We have the Howard County Police Department to do the job. I don't know why we have to automate it," Miller said.
"I'm still opposed," Kittleman said. "You worry about a machine saying you're guilty. Maybe the machine was wrong."
But Robey appears to have support where it counts in the 11-member delegation. Because fellow Democratic state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer also supports speed cameras, Robey has a majority of the county's three senators.
"I just view speeding as so widespread that we've got to take some action to slow people down. It's one of our biggest issues," he said.
Bates, Miller and DeBoy will be in the minority among the county's eight delegates if they are unable to persuade more colleagues to join their opposition to speed cameras.
Del. James E. Malone Jr. predicted a smoother ride for legislation in 2008 than in 2003, saying, "I supported the concept in 2003, and I supported it in Montgomery County." Malone holds the key post of vice chairman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, which would consider the issue.
So far, Dels. Guzzone and Elizabeth Bobo said they support the cameras, while Shane E. Pendergrass said she is undecided.
"I did vote for red-light cameras," she said. "Unfortunately, it is very expensive to station police everywhere in the county."
Del. Frank S. Turner said, "I don't like it, but I guess I can live with it. I'm not going to oppose it, but I want them to monitor it and make sure it doesn't become a cash cow."
DeBoy said he is a traditionalist. "If you're going to be charged with a crime, a police officer ought to charge you," he said.
It's a summer of convalescence for three of the four legislators in Howard's District 13 crew.
Robey is doing well, he said, recovering from left shoulder-replacement surgery in the spring. Guzzone is on medication for Lyme disease, though he said he treated it early and feels fine.
Turner is home a week from Howard County General Hospital, still trying to recover from what began as a bout last fall with prostate cancer, but is now a struggle to recover from radiation treatment.
"They tell me it's not life-threatening," Turner said, explaining that the cancer is gone, but effects from the treatment remain a problem. "I'm feeling pretty good. I should be fine by the time the session starts in January."
Pendergrass, the fourth member of "Team 13," reports she is fine.