- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2000

Metropolitan Police report red-light violations have dropped 60 percent at District of Columbia intersections where cameras designed to capture lawbreaking drivers on film have been installed.

The program has been such a success that Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is expanding the operation with at least 20 new red-light cameras and the installation of cameras that detect speeders.

"These programs are helping us improve traffic safety, while bringing in new revenue for the District," Chief Ramsey told the D.C. Council during a budget hearing Tuesday.

Through the end of February, the city has collected more than $2.4 million in fines. Violators get a ticket in the mail for the indiscretion, at a cost of $75 a ticket plus two points on their license.

Police officials said the highly automated system makes issuing the red-light violations easier, alerts distracted drivers more promptly and, apparently, serves as an effective deterrent. Signs are posted near each stoplight camera alerting drivers of their presence. Those drivers who ignore the warning signs and the stoplight receive in the mail a fine and a photo showing the time, date and even the vehicle's speed when the light was run.

Of the more than 66,000 violations mailed since the first cameras went on line in August, only about 3,000 recipients have requested court appearances to dispute the tickets. The firm handling the equipment, Lockheed Martin IMS, has installed 36 cameras at intersections throughout the city. Six more are pending, and Chief Ramsey wants to add 20 more after that.

Lockheed makes about $26 from every ticket that is paid, and the city does not pay any money up front. The company controls the entire process, from installing the cameras to sending out the tickets.

Police gauge the drop in violations with the number of citations issued during the first month cameras are put into operation.

"We are already seeing dramatic reductions in red-light running at those intersections where photo enforcement cameras have been installed," he said.

The first camera went up in August at New York Avenue and Fourth Streets NW an intersection that police said was notorious for light runners.

More than 4,600 notices were mailed out in the first month that camera was operational. Since the shutter started snapping, the number of violations at the intersection has dropped by 86 percent down to 651 in February.

"People know that the camera is there, and they stop," Chief Ramsey said. "We intend to use this same technology to address problems of chronic speeding on District streets."

Traffic fatalities dropped in the District last year, but officials said it's too early to tell whether the cameras had any impact.

Chief Ramsey said Lockheed Martin IMS is currently working on speed cameras, and he hopes the first few will be in place by late spring or early summer. The department plans to install 15 speed cameras by year's end. Some of these will be portable and moved around D.C. streets.

The first speed cameras will probably target areas around schools and other notorious speeding zones, including Interstate 295, but Chief Ramsey will have the final say on deployment. Speeding tickets will be issued and fines levied according to the speed over the legal limit.

The stoplight cameras are triggered when a car drives over an underground sensor after a stoplight has turned red. Cars in the middle of the intersection when the light turns red do not trigger the sensor.

The department embarked on the privatized red-light program to help turn the tide in a city that has long had a less-than-vigilant approach to traffic violations. The District joined other jurisdictions, including Alexandria, Va., Arlington, Va., the City of Fairfax, Va., and Baltimore, all of which use cameras to enforce red-light laws.

"Across the country people have seen success," Chief Ramsey said. "Anytime we can use technology it's a plus."

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