A new D.C. Council task force will evaluate hefty fines levied on motorists caught by speed cameras and other forms of automated traffic enforcement, a controversial and expanding system that has some wondering if city leaders care more about revenue than public safety.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray inserted a revenue provision in his fiscal 2013 budget that expands the use of automated enforcement, installing cameras in tunnels and at intersections to catch drivers who try to beat red lights. The measure was among a series of initiatives designed to ensure a balanced budget.
Although Mr. Gray cited public safety as the catalyst for his decision, many residents are wondering if fines of up to $150 are commensurate with the infractions.
Council members Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, will lead the task force when it meets for the first time on Tuesday at the John A. Wilson Building. The panel includes a diverse selection of experts on bicycle and pedestrian safety and representatives of AAA Mid-Atlantic and AARP D.C.
Ms. Cheh said the impetus to create a task force “came from a number of things.” Mainly, she and other lawmakers heard complaints from constituents about the severity of the fines and about speed-camera locations.
“They link that with the motives of the government,” she said. “That it’s not really about speeding … it’s really about revenue-raising.”
Ms. Cheh said she favors a tougher approach to motorists who run red lights — deeming that “inherently dangerous” — than to those who go a few too many miles per hour over the speed limit.
The task force is expected to examine the effect automated enforcement has on driving habits and public safety. Members will put together recommendations this fall, which the co-chairmen will use to write legislation to put before the council.
Ms. Cheh acknowledged the November elections could lead to some “political calculations” during debate, since incumbents running for re-election may not want to appear soft on public safety.
“It’s silly season,” she said.