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Maryland considers raising automated speeding fines in work zones, harsher penalties for street racing

Maryland lawmakers tackle issues on road safety, including increased penalties for illegal street ra
Maryland lawmakers tackle issues on road safety, illegal street racing 03:13

BALTIMORE - Maryland lawmakers are tackling two big issues involving safety on the roads.

They want to increase the number of cameras and the penalties for automated fines in work zones after a deadly crash on Baltimore's Beltway last year. There is also a push to increase penalties for dangerous street racing. 

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren covered hearings for both measures Thursday in Annapolis.

Street takeovers have long plagued communities across Maryland—a dangerous practice with drivers blocking roadways and doing donuts while crowds watch just inches away.     

There were more than 130 incidents recorded last year alone, including in Baltimore City and County, at times overwhelming law enforcement officers who often have little recourse other than fines for violators.

"I want effective law enforcement, effective justice so we can stop this nonsense because people are getting hurt, people are getting killed," Chief Russ Hamill of the Laurel Police Department told lawmakers.

Maryland's House of Delegates is considering a bill that could suspend the licenses of those responsible

Ocean City's mayor says tougher penalties worked in the resort town after a dangerous exhibition driving event caused chaos several years ago.    

Ocean City created Special Event Zones, areas where violators cars could even be impounded. 

That drove away the problem.  

"We had thousands of cars come from all over the country with one purpose and that was to rage the streets of Ocean City and to terrorize the community, and that really was what they were there to do," Mayor Rick Meehan told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. "The key is being able to make it an arrestable offense, make it a must-appear offense in court, not just a ticket where they can just send in the money and go on their merry way. And in some cases impound their vehicles."

Another bill under consideration would increase the number of cameras in work zones.    

It would allow fully automated enforcement with cameras no longer having to be manned, and it would raise fines from $40 to $290 for speeding.

Lieutenant Governor Aruna Miller is spearheading the measure. 

"For the people who work on these sites, it's not a matter of if they will experience a crash on their job site. It's a matter of when," Miller said. 

It follows Maryland's deadliest-ever work zone crash last year on I-695 in Baltimore County.

A car speeding at more than 100 mph entered an opening in the safety barrier, flipped over and killed six workers.

Several of the victims' loved ones showed up to support the bill. 

WJZ spoke to the children of Sybil DiMaggio last year. The mother lost her life in the tragedy.    

"Just in an instant, your whole world is overturned. Nothing is the same. You don't cope with it. You don't move on," Nora DiMaggio said last July.

The siblings told Hellgren their mom, a veteran construction worker, found that particular construction site in Baltimore County unnerving.

"She was very afraid because she had to exit and re-enter the job site frequently—just constantly in and out of the cars, trying to get through that space," her daughter said. "She hated it. She hated working there because it was so nerve-racking for her that something could happen so easily."

The lieutenant governor said Maryland averaged more than three work zone crashes every single day last year, adding to the urgency to pass this bill. 

However one lawmaker expressed concern at Thursday's hearing that the $290 fine is too high. 

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