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Privacy concerns over proposed cameras to catch distracted drivers in Maryland

The world's first system has been deployed in Australia. Montgomery County may not be far behind.

ROCKVILLE, Md. — The world's first artificial intelligence traffic camera system designed to catch and ticket drivers distracted by hand-held devices has been deployed in Australia. Maryland legislators are now considering a bill that would legalize the practice in the Old Line State.

Montgomery County's Council is split over whether to support the bill because of privacy concerns. The council voted 5 to 3 this week to "take no position" on the proposed change in state law.

"I think it's a bad idea," Councilmember Will Jawando said. "I think there are serious, serious privacy issues here and some serious potential for racial equity issues."

Jawando and other opponents noted the cameras are designed to peer inside motorists' vehicles from above and can capture images and information not related to a distracted driving offense.

But supporters noted that current enforcement efforts have not curbed distracted driving.

"What else are we going to do about distracted driving?" asked exasperated Councilmember Hans Riemer.

"This doesn't expand or change what's legal or not legal," Councilmember Tom Hucker said. "It's simply one more enforcement tool."

RELATED: Prince George’s County leaders confront distracted driving crisis

Credit: Damian Dovarganes
"I think there are serious, serious privacy issues here and some serious potential for racial equity issues," Councilmember Will Jawando said.

The cost of managing the cameras was also a factor the council considered. 

"Montgomery County Police are opposed to distracted driving cameras, in part because of the complications of managing another expensive and complex technology contract," Capt. Thomas Didone told council members.

Didone suggested more targeted enforcement and public outreach to reduce distracted driving.

Montgomery County police average at least 6,000 distracted driving citations issued annually but "that's not changing behavior," Didone said.

According to the Maryland Highway Safety Office, more than 27,000 people are injured and 185 others die each year on Maryland roads because of distracted driving. Distracted driving contributes to 58% of all crashes in Maryland.

RELATED: Study: Virginia has the most distracted drivers in the country

RELATED: Va. couple who lost baby joins effort to stop distracted driving

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