- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

First a confession: They got me. Yeah, they caught me speeding on camera. The photo of my econo-car's license plate is plain as day. That'll be $50 for driving 36 mph in a 25 mph zone on Rock Creek Church Road NW near Catholic University.

You can bet I'm trying to pay closer attention to posted speed signs, but I have to tell you, they are hard to find.

When the District stepped up enforcement of traffic laws, I was all for it. Still am. I even criticized Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican, who went on a tirade about tickets motorists received as a result of privately operated electronic measures that catch violators on camera.

The Washington metropolitan area is plagued by far too many fatal accidents due to red-light runners, aggressive drivers, inattentive drivers and inexperienced drivers who don't obey the law.

Now, I'm ready to amend my approval. Hey, I reserved the right to change my mind, too, you know.

While I still agree with the intent and purpose of the purported public safety devices, after the series of Scoop Newsworthy stories reporter Brian DeBose has doggedly detailed for The Washington Times, the processing of these tickets raises serious concerns.

No wonder the District has a budget surplus. How many of those extra ducats do you suppose were collected from the electronic cameras aimed at red-light runners and speeders?

It appears that some motorists are receiving bogus tickets mailed by reviewers who don't have a clear picture of the violators' license plates. And if you are unfortunate enough to get a bogus ticket, it looks as if it may take an act of Congress to get it corrected. Here's where Mr. Armey could prove helpful.

The first thing D.C. officials must do to restore credibility in this project is to remove the private company Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas from the review-and-challenge process.

Officials in the city's own Bureau of Traffic Adjudication acknowledge "too much can go wrong the way things are now."

Further, they say the private company is too involved in the processing of the tickets and that the bureau should be the final authority in determining disputes of these automated tickets.

If the mayor does not act to clear up this problem, the D.C Council needs to get into this mess. The council needs to exercise its oversight authority and clarify the laws governing ticket processing because those already involved can't seem to figure out who is in charge.

Meanwhile, motorists are being sent hither and yon and racking up fines while Moe, Larry and Curly play egotistical games. Should you appeal to the private company, the police or the Bureau of Traffic Adjudication? It's just not clear.

At issue with this troublesome program is whether the devices are public safety devices or cash cows for money-grubbing governments.

If local authorities want motorists to believe in the integrity of this program, they are going to have to change the way the tickets are issued, how they are reviewed and how they are challenged.

By the way, why aren't D.C. intersections where the cameras are in use clearly marked, as in suburban jurisdictions? Since I got my unwelcome Christmas card, I've tried to be very observant of speed limits, but it's like what another motorist pointed out on a local public affairs show people take chances speeding around you, which creates a greater hazard.

I've always supported the idea of reviewing the accuracy of the traffic enforcement cameras periodically because private contractors usually administer the program for local jurisdictions and get a portion of the proceeds.

As Mr. DeBose has documented, we have heard a tale or two about malfunctioning cameras and reviewers who made adjustments once the problem was brought to press.

Faced with the growing driving infractions in and around the metropolitan area, local law enforcement officials need all the tools, devices, fines and regulations they can get.

Those devices might force you to fork over a few bucks, but the same tools have cut down on crash fatalities by nearly 40 percent in some local jurisdictions, law enforcement officials say.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that 260,000 crashes and 800 deaths and 1,200 injuries are caused by red-light runners each year.

However, the public safety program must be administered in a fair manner, and those who stand to gain the most from its use should not be involved in the process.

One Maryland lawmaker, Delegate Kevin Kelly, Allegany County Democrat, plans to introduce a bill in the General Assembly that would monitor red-light cameras to ensure their integrity and prevent municipalities and private vendors from unjustly profiting from their use.

D.C. officials should follow in Mr. Kelly's direction.

Meanwhile, if you see a gray-haired girl creeping across town, just blow your horn and go around me. I'm trying to avoid getting my picture taken in an unflattering light.

Adrienne T. Washington's e-mail address is [email protected]aol.com.

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