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Md. Governor pulls plug on night vision goggles

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland state police will not be using night vision equipment to spy on motorists to see if they are wearing seat belts.

Reacting quickly to complaints, Gov. Robert Ehrlich on Monday directed the state police to discontinue testing the effectiveness of the equipment.

"Gov. Ehrlich isn't a fan of big brother tactics when it comes to law enforcement. That's the very reason why he vetoed speed cameras," said Shareese DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for Ehrlich.

"The governor felt there is an appropriate time and place for the use of night vision equipment. However, he did not feel that seat belt enforcement rose to that level," DeLeaver said.

Borrowed from the military, the equipment was used only during a three-hour test in the Rockville area of Montgomery County Wednesday night. The equipment already has been returned, Greg Shipley, spokesman for the state police said.

"It was simply a test. The local commander was looking at different ways to enforce the seat belt law and thought nighttime enforcement could be enhanced this way," Shipley said.

Unlike goggles used by the military in combat situations, the equipment has only one eyepiece instead of two.

"It wasn't the battlefield goggles you think of," Shipley said.

State law requires all drivers and right front seat passengers to wear seat belts. Children 15 years old or younger must wear a belt or be buckled into an approved child safety seat regardless of where they are riding in a vehicle.

When the seat belt law was passed in 1986, it was a secondary violation, and police could only issue a citation if they stopped a vehicle for another violation, Shipley said. But the law was changed in 1997 to make it a primary violation, allowing police to stop a car if they see someone covered by the law is not buckled up.

While it is difficult for police to see if people are wearing belts at night, Shipley said state police will continue to enforce the law when motorists are stopped for speeding and other violations.

State police have already issued more than 30,000 seat belt warnings and citations this year. A violation carries a fine of $25.

Motor vehicle safety advocates and police say buckling up saves lives. Of the 643 people who died in accidents in Maryland last year, 49 percent were not wearing a belt.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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