- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

It's not about safety; it's about money. So say congressional critics of automated traffic enforcement, such as Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who want to penalize the District by cutting $1 of federal funding for every $1 the city collects in fines from electronic cameras.
A similar measure proposed by Mr. Armey for the District's 2001 budget failed. But the House majority leader told The Washington Times this week he expects the punitive legislation will be resurrected as Congress takes up the District's 2003 budget.
"It is possible next year you'll see someone take a stronger stance," Mr. Armey said. "From my point of view, what you have however slight is an intrusion on our fundamental privacy rights, for something that appears to be motivated by increasing revenue, and I fight against it."
Mr. Armey has been the most vocal opponent of the District's increasing use of photo-radar and red-light cameras to enforce traffic laws. He said there is little evidence to support the notion that the devices decrease the number of accidents on roads. In July, Mr. Armey voted against congressional approval for the $800,000 requested by the District to implement the speed-camera program.
The District has recouped those dollars and then some in the three months that the speed-camera program has been in operation.
Area motorists have complained that the system is unfair. The Washington Times has received more than 60 phone, e-mail and letter complaints from motorists who say the system is arbitrary and unreliable. Complaints include inaccurate speed limits printed on tickets and low speed infractions of 1 mph to 6 mph over the posted limit.
Mr. Armey questioned the fairness of the judicial process in contesting the camera citations where an adjudicator, not a bench judge, oversees the proceedings. He said he also is troubled that officers operating the cameras do not have to appear in court they are only required to submit a deposition form for the adjudicator to read.
Members of Congress are skeptical of the District's contention that the program's focus is safety, not revenue.
They see insufficient evidence to support claims that the devices make streets safer. But they do see money pouring into the city's coffers more than $850,000 in fines collected so far on more than 100,000 citations issued. Almost 50 percent of all citations issued go to Maryland drivers and about 15 percent go to residents of Virginia.
Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, and Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat, told The Times they are still undecided on the cameras.
"We have gotten some complaints, not many. But we are monitoring this. We are looking at the breakdown on which home jurisdictions are getting the most tickets," said Robert White, Mrs. Morella's spokesman.
Both representatives said the District has the right to govern itself. They have decided to adopt a wait-and-see approach. But as more and more tickets go out, more and more irritated motorists are telling The Times they expect public officials to take a stand on the growing use of these automated devices.
Maryland and Virginia residents are not necessarily forced to pay the fines because there are few if any penalties that the District can enforce against them. There is no standing compact between the three jurisdictions dealing with automated traffic enforcement.
"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, a spokesman for Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles in the Aug. 13 editions of The Times.
In the same editions, Cheron Wicker, Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman, told The Times, "I don't think we can do that anyway without having laws changed or altering the current compact." She was responding to questions about whether Maryland motor vehicles can penalize their licensed motorists.
Metropolitan Police Department officials stated in past reports that the District is working on an agreement with the city's neighbors to assess penalties on their drivers, including placing holds on their registration and license renewal.


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