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EDITORIAL: Alexandria’s voluntary cameras

Red-light photo tickets can be safely ignored in Alexandria and Los Angeles

- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2011

The city of Los Angeles last week abandoned its multimillion-dollar red-light camera cash grab because residents caught on to a dirty little secret. Payment of a citation that shows up in the mailbox anywhere in L.A. County turned out to be a strictly voluntary act. The same happens to be true in Alexandria, where ticketing resumed Monday. Alexandria officials hope you don't notice.

When word got out in the City of Angels that there was no hit to the credit rating, insurance or driving record for tossing the near-$500 tickets in the trash, about 65,000 Angelenos collectively deprived the system of $30 million in revenue. Without that loot, the city council lost interest in the "safety" program that had seemed so important just a few years ago.

Likewise, the bureaucrats hanging out in Old Town's city hall may talk big about safety, but they don't really mean what they say. Red-light cameras made their debut at Gibbon Street and South Patrick Street in November 1997 and clicked away until the General Assembly temporarily shut them down in 2005, noting accidents had not been reduced. A 2007 analysis by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) found a 42 percent increase in accidents at the only intersection, Duke Street and West Taylor Run Parkway, for which complete data were available.

Municipal lobbyists convinced the commonwealth's lawmakers to bring the cameras back, but the results won't be any better this time around. At Patrick and Gibbon, there have been just five crashes "associated with red-light running" in the past three years. That means if the cameras worked exactly as advertised, less than one crash might be prevented at the intersection each year. Over the same period, there were 19 rear-end collisions - a type of impact expected to grow more common as drivers slam on the brakes at yellow lights to avoid being flashed.

Brake-slamming is certain to rise because VDOT allowed Alexandria to quietly shorten the duration of the yellow light at the intersection from four to three seconds in a craven attempt to make the shakedown more lucrative. This kind of underhanded and dangerous behavior shouldn't be rewarded. That's why readers should remember that moving-violation tickets aren't valid in the commonwealth unless they are validly served - sending them in the mail doesn't cut it.

The best way to teach Alexandria a lesson is to follow the lead of California drivers and toss those photo tickets in the trash. Once the money dries up, expect Alexandria and the Australian company that operates the cameras to lose interest.

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