- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

For months, now, you've read and listened to D.C. officials as they try to explain the "safety" value of the city's photo-radar programs, which are managed by private firms that stand to reap millions off of unsuspecting scofflaws. Well, Congress has let the cat out of the bag. D.C. officials are using the technology as no mere moneymaker, but as a back door "commuter tax."
Since Aug. 6, the District has issued more than 31,200 speeding citations through its photo-radar program, and collected $420,584 mostly from D.C. motorists. Owners who don't fork over the money can have their vehicles booted and towed, forcing them to pay additional expenses. D.C. motorists have something else hanging over their heads, though, that out-of-towners don't: The former can be prevented from having their driver's license and their vehicle registration renewed if they do not pay their tickets even if someone else was actually caught on camera. And, if they choose to have their case adjudicated and lose, they have to dish out still more dough: $45.
The majority of scofflaws are commuters. Marylanders made up 49 percent of those receiving citations, and Virginians made up 15 percent lopsided percentages that led critics to one conclusion. House Majority Leader Dick Armey has long complained that making money not making roads safer for pedestrians and motorists drives the District's photo-radar programs, and the fact that non-D.C. motorists are cited most proves his point.
Astonishingly, however, out-of-town motorists can usually get away without paying their tickets because the District has no reciprocity agreements with states. Lucky out-of-towners.
More importantly, there are more effective ways to ensure traffic safety, such as rumble strips and longer caution lights. Fairfax County chose the latter. "The red-light camera at the intersection of Fair Ridge Drive and U.S. Route 50 issued as many as 1,500 tickets consistently for months, and it did nothing to stop violators," Erik Scrum of the National Motorists Association told Mr. DeBose. "[B]ut, after they increased the yellow-light time by 1.5 seconds, there was an immediate 90 percent drop in red-light running." Sounds like a no-brainer for the tax-happy District.

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