- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

The District has issued automated speeding citations to more than 160,000 drivers and collected more than $5.3 million in fines since it began its photo-radar camera program in August.

According to figures provided by the Metropolitan Police Department, the city has collected through Dec. 27 $5,326,922 from 74,228 of the 161,322 drivers who have been cited since the automated traffic-enforcement program began Aug. 10.

If an average speeding fine is $50, the city is looking to collect at least $4,354,700 from the 87,094 drivers who have not yet paid their fines.

The photo-radar program has issued a monthly average of 32,264 speeding citations during the past five months. City officials had hoped the program would generate about 80,000 monthly citations when they contracted to implement it last year, according to documents.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday said the program isn't about collecting money but saving lives. Appearing on WTOP Radio's "Ask the Chief" call-in show, he said that speeders are slowing down.

"In July [during a test program], we had 31 percent of drivers exceeding the speed threshold. That number is down to 22 percent now," Chief Ramsey said, citing figures through November.

D.C. police spokesman Kevin Morison said the latest data show that about 16 percent of drivers are exceeding the speed threshold.

"Average speeds in 25 mph zones appear to have stabilized at 29 mph down from 35.5 mph in July," said Mr. Morison.

Monitoring of 35 mph zones shows a reduction in average speeds from 43.7 mph in July to 39.4 mph in December, he added.

"This is very positive information. We are slowing people down, which helps to reduce the possibility of a crash, reduces the injuries if there is a crash and builds respect for the rule of law, even if people resent being caught," said Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer.

The D.C. Council in 1996 authorized the police department to use automated cameras to enforce traffic laws.

The city has used red-light cameras to nab and fine red-light runners since 1998.

"The money [collected from fines] goes to the city's general fund, and I'm hoping we will have a new contract soon with the vendor that has been the most contested issue in all of this," Chief Ramsey said on WTOP.

The District's general fund has grown by $3,174,310 in revenue from the photo-radar program. Affiliated Computer Services of Dallas, which operates the cameras for the city, has collected $2,152,612.

The company's contract with the city entitles it to receives $29 of each fine that is paid.

In a Dec. 6 appearance on WTOP, Chief Ramsey said a flat-fee contract would be completed by the end of this month.

Under such a contract, the vendor would make less money on operating and maintaining the cameras, and the city would collect more money per fine paid.

Chief Ramsey noted that 44 percent of the speed-camera citations go to Maryland drivers. About 21 percent of citations are against drivers from Virginia and other states, and about 35 percent are against D.C. drivers.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, has called the District's use of photo radar a commuter tax.

Area residents who contacted The Washington Times have expressed outrage over the cameras, saying they invade privacy and merely generate revenue for the city. Some have said the speed cameras do nothing to prevent speeding without points being assessed.

D.C. laws prevent the camera enforcement from issuing points on drivers' records. Only photos of drivers' rear license plate are taken, not of drivers' faces. Therefore the city can't prove who was driving to assess points.

"I do think our inability to assess points takes some of the teeth out of the enforcement, and I would prefer to see points," Chief Gainer told The Times last month.

Chief Ramsey said the city has put up 60 signs to alert drivers to the enforcement. The Metropolitan Police Department only monitors 60 enforcement zones with the cameras.

Some residents favor the cameras.

Terry Lynch, chairman of the Worker's Rights Board, said, "It is good to see people slowing down, especially around schools in my neighborhood near Reno Road northwest."

Dr. Nancy W. Stone, who lives on 49th Street NW, wrote to The Times saying, "local residents have repeatedly rated aggressive speeders as the number one safety concern." She added that the city needs to begin monitoring Connecticut Avenue.

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