- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

The Metropolitan Police Department's new photo-radar cameras are cranking out speeding tickets by the thousands — but none of those citations will cost drivers their licenses in the District or anywhere else.
Because the cameras shoot pictures of license plates, not drivers, the citations don't show up on anyone's driving record. Instead, the tickets are issued to the registered owner of the vehicle, like a parking ticket. That means the District, which expects to rake in an estimated $11 million in new revenue annually with the cameras, will have a tougher time forcing non-District residents to pay up.
D.C. residents who do not pay their fines could see their cars booted or towed, or could be prevented from renewing their license or re-registering a car with the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
But the District will have a harder time catching drivers from Maryland or Virginia, because neither state has a reciprocity agreement with the District on the speeding cameras.
Non-District residents who fail to pay the District's fines could be arrested, however, if they are pulled over in the city. An out-of-towner's car could also be snatched if police find the vehicle illegally parked in the city.
D.C. officials have said repeatedly that public safety, not revenue generation, is behind the city's deployment earlier this month of six new photo-radar cameras — one fixed and five mobile. The cameras, which are mounted in unmarked police cruisers and stationed at various locations around the city, including highways used primarily by commuters, use electronic triangulation to calculate speed, then snap license-plate photos as vehicles go by.
Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Kevin Morison said the District is working on reciprocity agreements with Maryland and Virginia that would put more teeth into the citations. But until such agreements are finalized, the District's avenues for enforcement are limited.
"Because the photo-enforced violations are not 'pointable' — meaning that no points are issued to the violator's license — we don't routinely notify the other jurisdictions," Mr. Morison said.
But he said the District wants to work with its neighbors on a reciprocity agreement.
"It is an agreement that would affect people's ability to re-register their cars or renew their driver's licenses based on unpaid violations," Mr. Morison said.
Police officials told The Washington Times earlier this month that the cameras had generated more than 15,000 tickets during the first 10 days of operation, beginning Aug. 6.
But police officials have not responded to requests from The Times for updated statistics on the tickets issued by the cameras.
Under the Non-Resident Violator Compact, enacted in 1987, member states — including Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District — are required to notify other jurisdictions of any "pointable" traffic violations issued by a police officer. Those jurisdictions, after notification of the violation, must then enforce appropriate penalties.
Citations issued by speed-radar cameras are not covered by the compact because they are not issued by officers.
"We don't get the reports. The problem is that you have no way to identify the driver. All they can do is send the ticket to the owner of the vehicle," said Cheron Wicker, spokeswoman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
"Because there is no reciprocity agreement at this time, no action will be taken against Virginia drivers for these types of violations," said Brian Matt, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
Neither Maryland nor Virginia officials had heard of the District's efforts to negotiate new reciprocity agreements regarding the traffic cameras, which have been criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union and key lawmakers on Capitol Hill as a dangerous overextension of government power.
"I don't think we can do that [in Maryland] anyway without having laws changed or without altering the current compact," said Mrs. Wicker.
Virginia would have the same problem, according to Mr. Matt. "To enact the original compact, we had to change the laws, and we would have to go through the General Assembly," he said.
The legislatures for both states are out of session until January. Even if state laws were changed, the changes wouldn't take effect until July 1, Mr. Matt said, "unless there was some sort of emergency enactment."
Virginia lawmakers say a reciprocity agreement with the District on the speeding cameras is unlikely.
"We can't even get through the additional jurisdictions to pass the red-light cameras. It won't pass," said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican.
Virginia lawmakers, he said, see the cameras as an attempt by the District to raise revenue, not improve safety.
"Right now, the way the District runs the cameras, with a private company controlling the tickets, it looks like they're setting up a cash cow," Mr. Marshall said. "If the District operated the cameras themselves, the opposition might stop."
After weeks of criticism regarding the cameras, the District is looking at restructuring its contract with Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the private firm that bought out Lockheed Martin IMS, which originally set up the system. The new contract would be a fixed-fee deal, instead of the current arrangement, in which ACS takes a its portion out of every fine that is paid.


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