Auto opportunity

The Baltimore Sun

It's not uncommon for the most sensible of proposals to get treated insensibly by the Maryland General Assembly. But lawmakers in Annapolis occasionally get a chance to make amends, and such is the case this year with two motor vehicle proposals, one of which should make streets safer and the other save drivers hundreds of dollars.

Let's tackle the savings first. Under legislation offered by Baltimore Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, drivers who purchase their insurance from the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund would be able to pay their bills in installments instead of paying a full year's worth of coverage in advance.

MAIF, the state's quasi-public insurer of last resort, can't offer an installment plan now because of a quirk in state law. It's a quirk with its own lobbyists - employed by the premium finance companies that profit handsomely by charging drivers exorbitant interest rates on loans that are essentially risk-free.

Auto insurance is expensive enough, and a recession is no time to force motorists into the poor house. The average Baltimore MAIF customer pays $3,219. With a little tinkering (the proposed 25 percent down payment is far too high), Senator Pugh's proposal should save drivers $200 to $400 per year.

To make streets safer, Gov. Martin O'Malley is backing a measure to permit the use of speed monitoring cameras to catch people driving 12 miles per hour or more over the speed limit in a highway construction zone and allow local jurisdictions to use them to enforce speed limits on residential streets and school zones. The maximum fine would be $40.

Montgomery County has had some success cracking down on speeders with such devices. It's also raised millions of dollars to help fund pedestrian and public safety programs.

Opponents may not like the thought of Big Brother monitoring traffic, but the 12 mph margin is generous, perhaps excessively so. It's not merely a nuisance for people to drive that fast around highway crews or where children are playing, it's dangerous.

Please spare us from complaints that speed cameras are a hardship on people during an economic downturn. So is getting killed by an unsafe driver under any circumstances. The recession is a good time to lift a bit of the speed enforcement burden from police (and onto speed cameras) but not to ignore dangerous behavior altogether.

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