- The Washington Times - Friday, November 18, 2005

The country’s largest automobile-owner group warned its 46 million members yesterday that the District and its web of traffic-enforcement cameras is no place for speeders and red-light runners.

This is the first time in AAA’s 105-year history that an entire city has been designated as a “strict enforcement area,” said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for the group’s mid-Atlantic region, which serves nearly 4 million members in the District, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“There are six locations in the nation that are designated as a strict enforcement area, but the District, which covers 69 square miles, is by far the largest jurisdiction ever to be so named,” Mr. Townsend said.

The designation follows a record-breaking month for the District and its 10 stationary and 12 portable speed cameras. Officials collected $2.9 million in October from tickets generated, then mailed to motorists. It was the biggest revenue month in the speed-camera program’s 4-year-old history.

Though AAA has long been critical of the District’s traffic-enforcement cameras, which have generated more than $122 million in fines since 1999, it stopped short of designating the city as a “traffic trap.”

Mr. Townsend said the District should not take the strict-enforcement designation as a “slap in the face.”

“We’re making it a more wholesome place for tourists by telling them to slow down,” he said. “The District does a excellent job in enforcing these laws.”

In fact, D.C. officials have embraced the designation as a validation against critics who say the cameras are more about money than safety.

“I’m not concerned at all,” said Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. “People should abide by our traffic laws. [The District] had largest drop in traffic fatalities in the nation last year, which is very positive and is due to enhanced traffic enforcement, including automated enforcement. We welcome visitors, workers and others, but we also want our streets to remain safe for everyone to enjoy.”

The U.S. Transportation Department recently announced the District’s 36-percent reduction in traffic deaths from 2003 to 2004 was the best in the county.

The 45 fatalities last year was the fewest in the past 18 years, police said.

“We wear AAA’s designation as a badge of honor,” said Mayor Anthony A. Williams. “We know that strict enforcement — when combined with education and engineering — makes our roadways safer and saves lives. For families crossing streets with children in strollers or for seniors who cross streets as they do errands, slowing traffic is a very good thing.”

Officials for the Washington D.C. Convention & Tourism Corporation said the designation will have a minimal impact on tourism because most visitors use public transit.

Bill Hanbury, the organization’s chief executive officer, said the designation will be an asset, not a liability.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “Shouldn’t we be proud of the fact that there’s a 36-percent reduction in highway fatalities in the District?”

Mr. Hanbury also pointed out that tourism in the District has increased in recent years, as more traffic-enforcement cameras were being added.

The District last year had 17.7 million domestic visitors, placing it among the top five U.S. destinations.

“The American public has spoken,” Mr. Hanbury said. “They want safe highways, streets and walkways in the District. They have come back to [the District] in large numbers, and this rating by AAA is not going to damage the tourism industry one iota.”

The city’s speed cameras have generated more than $89 million in fines since 2001. The 49 red-light cameras have produced more than $33 million since 1999.

The $2.9 million collected last month from speed-camera tickets was $400,000 more than the previous high, set in May.

Chief Ramsey could not explain the sudden increase in revenue.

“We write tickets, the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication imposes fines,” he said. “Unless previous months’ tickets are added in that count due to when they were paid, I don’t know. I really don’t keep up with the fine part of this. Photo enforcement has lowered aggressive speeding and that is good.”

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