- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

Beginning at 6 a.m. Monday, the Metropolitan Police Department will start a campaign to catch speeding drivers by firing a radar gun at them, taking pictures of their vehicles and mailing tickets to the cars’ owners.

Motorists won’t know what hit them. They won’t even know that anything hit them — until they get a ticket days later, ordering them to pay a $30 to $200 fine.

Five police vehicles armed with automated photo-radar devices will rotate through 60 “enforcement zones.” If a speeding motorist is hit with a radar beam, the shutter will snap and the car owner will get a ticket in the mail.

The effort aims to save lives, reduce crashes and curb aggressive driving. A police announcement says speed has been a factor in 59 percent of traffic fatalities in the District in recent years, resulting in 25 to 30 deaths a year.

D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said speeding is “nothing short of a public-safety crisis in our city.”

Warning time is over, and preliminary numbers indicate the program will reap a windfall.

In the first two weeks of the warning period, about 25 percent of vehicles passing through photo-radar zones were caught travelling 11 mph or more above the speed limit. On the highway, about three in eight drivers did the same.

The city’s contract with Lockheed Martin IMS, which designs and operates the systems, cites expected revenue of $11 million a year. The company donates the equipment and takes $29 for each citation paid.

Combined with a current Lockheed Martin IMS contract for red-light cameras, the District stands to make $160 million a year in traffic fines by 2004. When the photo-radar program is fully operational, the devices are expected to produce 80,000 speeding tickets a month.

By comparison, D.C. police officers wrote 10,000 speeding tickets last year. Police in the much larger and more populous Fairfax County last year wrote 122,635 tickets for traffic violations, not just speeding or red-light running.

City officials have said the photo-radar program comes at no cost to the city because Lockheed Martin pays officers overtime to use the devices.

However, “there is a financial disincentive for D.C. and Lockheed to make safety and engineering improvements that reduce speeding,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Justin McNaull.

A congressional study released this year said yellow lights are getting shorter, causing some drivers to run red lights and get nabbed by cameras. The shorter yellow lights also increase the chances that a driver will get in an accident by stopping short, the report said.

AAA, the nation’s largest travelers’ advocacy group, supports red-light cameras, but says photo-radar devices raise many concerns.

One concern is that photo-radar cameras issue speeding tickets without the discretion police officers often use. Mr. McNaull, a former Arlington County police officer, recalled chasing a speeding vehicle that committed numerous violations until it stopped at a hospital emergency room. A woman in labor hobbled out of the passenger seat, and Mr. McNaull opted not to issue a ticket.

The lack of discretion also means the devices “fail to distinguish between excessively fast driving and inadvertent infractions of the speed limit,” Mr. McNaull said. “It doesn’t stop drunk drivers or reckless drivers, or people with suspended licenses.”

The District’s use of photo-radar speeding tickets comes on the heels of the city’s 2-year-old red-light camera program. The revenue sharing from photo radar for speeders is similar to that for the city’s 39 red-light cameras, which have netted $12.3 million in fines.

The D.C. police department has the backing of the safety lobby for both kinds of devices. Organizations such as Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety call red-light running and speeding an “epidemic” that must be stopped.

They say the devices reduce crashes, injuries and deaths. D.C. police say red-light cameras cut red-light running by almost 65 percent and that red-light fatalities are down 85 percent in the last two years.

The police department’s promotion materials tout the success of photo-radar programs in other cities, citing reductions in crashes and deaths. Traffic crashes have dropped 41 percent in National City, Calif., since a photo-radar program began.

But the technology-driven campaigns against traffic violators have created a backlash in California and Canada, and five states have outlawed the devices through the courts or legislatures.

San Diego shut down red-light cameras last month after police discovered the private contractor operating the devices had shifted sensors in the street. About 300 motorists are suing the city, saying the automated tickets constitute a violation of the right to due process.

The devices also have raised the ire of privacy advocates, including members of Congress who worry that the government is peering too closely at the activities of law-abiding residents and seeks to control their behavior.

Chief Ramsey doesn’t necessarily disagree: “We expect to see dramatic improvements in a very short period of time,” he said in an announcement issued yesterday.

That irks House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who has raised the alarm about electronic surveillance of ordinary Americans.

“The government is tracking the comings and goings of its citizens,” said Mr. Armey’s spokesman, Richard Diamond. “There is nothing to stop them from the next upgrade, which would be real-time tracking of people driving by. They’ve shown no restraint so far.”

In fact, police plan to expand their efforts at catching traffic violators with technology.

They will augment red-light cameras to catch “speed on green” and right-on-red violators.

The department bought 70 “sophisticated new laser guns” to use in all seven police districts against “the most dangerous speeders,” according to an announcement issued yesterday.

Officials in charge of the program were on vacation and not available yesterday to provide details about when the new devices will be used. Statistics on current revenue from traffic citations were not available.

Locations

The following is a list of the “enforcement zones” where photo-radar devices will be used to catch for ticketing speeding motorists in the District.

First District

  • 200 - 1100 blocks of 3rd Street Tunnel
  • 100 - 400 blocks of 9th Street Tunnel
  • Unit - 1100 blocks of Southeast/Southwest Freeway SW and Unit - 1000 blocks of SE/SW Fwy SE
  • 200 - 1500 blocks of Pennsylvania Ave SE
  • 400 - unit blocks of M St SW & unit - 1000 blocks of M St SE

Second District

  • 1900 - 2600 blocks of Calvert St NW
  • 4900 - 5800 blocks of MacArthur Blvd.
  • 4500 - 5000 blocks of Western Ave NW
  • 4300 - 4500 blocks of River Rd NW 2E: ZONE of 3900 - 4500 blocks of Massachusetts Ave NW
  • 3900 - 5900 blocks of Nebraska Ave NW
  • 3300 - 3900 blocks of Military Rd NW
  • 1500 - 3000 blocks of Foxhall Road NW
  • 4800 - 5200 blocks of Loughboro Rd NW
  • 5900 block of Dalecarlia Pkwy
  • 2800 - 3100 blocks of Arizona Ave NW
  • 2900 - 3200 blocks of Cleveland Ave NW 2N: ZONE of 2900 - 3200 blocks of 34th St NW
  • 4700 - 5200 blocks of Reno Rd NW
  • 1600- 2600 blocks of Military Rd NW

Third District

  • 1500 - 1900 blocks of 7th St NW & 2000 - 2800 of GA Ave NW
  • 1400 - 2000 blocks of 16th St NW (IIHS Study Site-2000 block)
  • 2400 - 2800 blocks of Sherman Ave NW
  • 1000 - 1400 blocks of 6th St NW
  • 1400 - 1900 blocks of 9th St NW
  • Unit - 1100 Rhode Island Ave NW (600 block IIHS study)

Fourth District

  • 3600 - 5300 blocks of 13th St NW
  • 3100 - 3600 Park Pl NW
  • 2800 - 4200 blocks of N. Capitol NW/NE
  • 100 block of Michigan NW & 100 - 500 blocks of Mich Ave NE
  • 4100 - 5400 block of NH Ave NW & 5500 - 6300 blocks of NH Ave NE
  • 3200 - 4100 blocks of Harewood Rd NE
  • 6800 - 8200 blocks of 16th St NW
  • 6100 - 6500 blocks of Blair Rd NW/NE
  • 6300 - 7000 blocks of Eastern Ave NE
  • 100 - 700 blocks of Riggs Rd NE (IIHS Study Site)

Fifth District

  • 500 - 1400 blocks of Florida Ave NE (IIHS Study Site-1300 block)
  • 1400 - 1800 blocks of Michigan Ave NE
  • 2500 - 4500 blocks of South Dakota Ave
  • 2100 - 2800 blocks of Lincoln Rd NE
  • 2800 - 3100 blocks of 4th St NE
  • 800 - 1800 blocks of Monroe St NE
  • 900 - 1200 block of Brentwood Rd NE (IIHS Study Site-1100 block)
  • 2200 - 3600 blocks of New York NE
  • 1300 - 1900 blocks of Bladensburg Rd. NE
  • 2000 - 3000 blocks of East Capitol NE

Sixth District

  • 3200 - 5700 blocks of East Capitol
  • 3000 - 5500 blocks of Southern Ave SE
  • 100 - 1000 blocks of Ridge Rd SE
  • 1700 blocks of 25th St SE & 1700 - 3000 blocks of Naylor
  • I-295 from north of Penn Ave exit to DC line
  • 2500 - 4000 blocks of Pennsylvania Ave SE
  • 2400 - 4400 blocks of Benning Rd NE
  • 2800 - 4000 blocks of Alabama Rd SE

Seventh District

  • Suitland Pkwy from DC line to Firth Stirling Rd SE
  • I-295 from DC line to Penn Ave exit
  • 1900 - 2400 blocks of Good Hope Road SE
  • 2600 - 3200 blocks of MLK Ave SE
  • 800 - 2900 blocks of Southern Ave SE
  • 200 - 800 blocks of Malcolm X Ave SE

Souce: Metropolitan Police Department Web site, www.mpdc.org

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