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Gray lowers some D.C. speed camera fines

- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray on Friday lowered the fines for all but the most egregious speeders who are nabbed by traffic cameras in the District, pledging to use higher-than-anticipated revenues from the automated enforcement program to hire 100 new police officers.

The new schedule of fines applies solely to speed-related violations and arrives as city lawmakers simultaneously try to decrease lofty traffic-camera fines that some see as more of a money-maker for the city than as a way to improve safety.

Under the rules effective on Monday, violators caught traveling up to 10 miles per hour will be fined $50 instead of $75 and those speeding 11-15 mph above the limit will be fined $100 instead of $125. However, motorists who exceed the limit by 25 mph or more will face a harsher fine of $300 instead of $250.

Mr. Gray was able to immediately enforce the new fines as a "regulatory fix," instead of the lengthier process the D.C. Council faces in its own proposal to amend traffic-camera fines.

Last month, a trio of city lawmakers introduced the Safety-Based Traffic Enforcement Act of 2012 to cap fines at $50 for certain moving violations, such as exceeding the speed limit by up to 20 mph, blocking an intersection, failing to yield to a pedestrian, running a stop sign, failing to stop before turning right at a red light and turning right on red where it is prohibited. Fines previously could exceed $100, and speeders faced tickets ranging from $75 to $150 for the various violations.

"I've said many times that we would have our own plan, so we're pursuing that," Mr. Gray said, noting he is not seeking a rift with lawmakers. "If there are other issues on the table, we'd be happy to work with the council."

Mr. Gray inserted a revenue provision in his fiscal 2013 budget that expands the use of automated traffic enforcement to speeders in tunnels, drivers who roll through stop signs and motorists who race through intersections to beat red lights. The measure, which was forecast to bring in an additional $25 million this fiscal year, was among a series of initiatives designed to ensure a balanced budget.

The mayor's budget director, Eric Goulet, said automated traffic enforcement generated $27 million in higher-than-projected revenue in fiscal 2012. Officials expected that to reoccur in fiscal 2013, when the lowered fines are forecast to bring the extra revenue down to $3.5 million, according to Mr. Goulet.

Mr. Gray said he will propose emergency legislation that dedicates the excess revenue to hiring more officers in the Metropolitan Police Department, bringing the force up to about 4,000 officers.

Fines do not have to be as high as they are now for the cameras to have a deterrent effect on speeding, said council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, who introduced the bill with Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, in mid-October. He also suggested that there has been a backlash from city residents against the program, which has expanded dramatically since red-light cameras were introduced in 1999 and speed cameras were installed in 2001.

Fine reductions proposed in the council bill do not apply to tickets issued by officers who pull over motorists, and the fine for running a red light still would be $150. Those who exceed speed limits at a "reckless" level of more than 20 mph still would be subject to a fine of $200, or $250 if the speed limit is exceeded by 25 mph, Mr. Wells said.

The bill dedicates 50 percent of revenue from the fines to improved traffic enforcement, traffic safety education and capital investments in safer roads. It also directs the mayor's office to evaluate city speed limits.

Mr. Wells on Friday released a statement that thanked the mayor for joining in the spirit of the council's bill to modify fines and dedicate revenues to public safety. It did not mention the differences between the council proposal and Mr. Gray's new rules.

At his news conference, Mr. Gray struck a collaborative tone in dealing with the council's proposal. He thanked various council members for their efforts on the issue, which included the formation of a task force to develop recommendations.

Yet Mr. Goulet said the council's bill, because of its sweeping reductions, would not garner a "clean" fiscal impact statement.

"That bill would create a hole in the budget," he said, specifically a $61 million gap consisting of $36 million from the fine reductions and $25 million from moving the revenue to a dedicated purpose.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier also criticized the council's plan from a public safety perspective.

"I think if you drop the fines down to 50 dollars, there's absolutely no deterrent," she said, "and some people see that as the cost of doing business."

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