- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

The payin' paper is being issued like confetti in our fair city. According to Brian DeBose, who writes for The Washington Times, Washington's armada of photo-radar traps, both stationary and mobile, have generated nearly $10 million in fines ($5.3 million of it actually collected) since August. That works out to 161,322 tickets or about 32,264 per month. Ka-ching. But even that's not enough for the ravenous maw of automated, for-profit District traffic enforcement which had hoped to see something like 80,000 tickets issued per month.
Clearly, the city has found a means of fleecing motorists that is far more effective and lucrative than penny-ante parking-ticket harassment. Given artificially low (and, arguably, deliberately set that way) speed limits that rarely get higher than 25 mph within the city limits, it's no wonder that so many "scofflaws" have fallen victim to the ticket factory. If speed limits were set at a more reasonable level closer to the natural flow of traffic, which is about 35 to 40 mph on most major city streets, such as Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues photo radar would not generate nearly so many fines.
But perhaps that's exactly the point. The object of photo-radar enforcement seems clearly to be revenue enhancement, not improved traffic safety. That the cameras are operated on a for-profit basis with the booty split between the city government and a private company Affiliated Computer Services, which to date has raked in almost $3 million only makes the obvious more apparent than it already is. The system is engineered to bring in as much cash as possible, with as little procedural protections for the victims as can be managed without raising too much protest. Already, the burden of proof belongs not to the city government or even the notorious Bureau of Traffic Adjudication; rather, it is up to the accused motorist to prove himself innocent of the charges or pony up. Most people haven't got the time to hassle with this kind of nonsense, so they dig deep and pay up. But in time, if this kind of revenue enhancement scheme is allowed to persist, citizens should expect to find themselves more and more the object of taxes thinly gussied up as public-safety measures of one sort or another.
Mr. DeBose quoted Metropolitan Police Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer as arguing that "We are slowing people down, which helps to reduce the possibility of a crash, reduces injuries if there is a crash and builds respect for the rule of law, even if people resent being caught." Well, Chief, if that's so, why not reduce speed limits even further? If 25 mph is "safe," wouldn't 15-mph be even "safer"? How about 10 mph?
The point is that a balance must be struck between reasonable speeds and public safety. Artificially low limits that effectively turn almost all drivers into speeders by technical fiat only help gin up revenue via radar traps. As for respecting the rule of law, people have every right to resent "being caught" by an unjust system that seems more interested in the bottom line than in promoting safer driving.

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