EDITORIAL: Washington’s camera craze

Photo radar targets members of Congress

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The District of Columbia’s speed-camera revenue-raising grows more brazen by the day. Last week, officials announced a dozen new speed-trap locations, while the for-profit Arizona-based vendor American Traffic Solutions (ATS) has been busy installing permanent speed cameras at well-concealed freeway locations on Interstate 295 and Interstate 395. They hope to entrap travelers surprised that an interstate highway could possibly have a speed limit as dangerously low as 40 or 45 miles per hour. These particular locations also mark the cash grab’s next evolution.

In the past, D.C. officials were reluctant to place cameras in the path of members of Congress. Angering the wrong senator could help cut off vital federal funding that was used to set up the program a decade ago. Now a camera stationed on I-395 is designed to dish out tickets to the thousands of congressional staffers who live in Virginia and make their way to the Capitol via the Third Street Tunnel each day.

The District must think it’s now untouchable. The people responsible for the cameras certainly do. On Thursday, former Metropolitan Police Officer David Cephas entered a guilty plea for falsifying certification logs for the photo-ticketing program, causing 200 speed-camera tickets to be refunded. At higher levels, Kwame Brown stepped down as D.C. Council chairman over fraud charges, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray faces a corruption investigation over alleged campaign irregularities.

Even when it appears that some in the city want to do the right thing with cameras, closer examination shows it’s a charade. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, announced July 31 that they would form a task force to consider lowering the automated ticketing fines, which top out at $250 each. Ms. Cheh, however, is no champion of the motorist. She’s on record supporting an effort to take away the right of innocent drivers to defend themselves against D.C. photo tickets. Her task force is stacked with the biggest proponents of cameras in the city.

Why let the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council and the D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council have a seat at the table, other than to ensure a voice for car-hating liberals? The other task force member, AAA Mid-Atlantic, does feign advocacy for motorists, but AAA is first and foremost an insurance company. It lobbies tirelessly across the country in favor of ticketing because violations that carry points mean higher payments to insurance companies like AAA. The District has never ruled out imposing points for photo tickets in the future.

There’s a way to make sure that doesn’t happen. Now that their own wallets are on the line, perhaps congressmen will realize they need to assert more authority over the federal city. It’s saying a lot that something could be so badly managed that Congress could provide an improvement, but that’s the reality in Washington.

The Washington Times

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