- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

The District has devised an ingenious way to bolster its revenue at the expense of its citizens. Radar cameras have been placed strategically throughout the District in order to catch motorists who exceed the designated speed limit.
These hitech cameras are operated by police officers in unmarked cars in hidden locations. If the motorist exceeds the speed limit by more than 10 mph, a fine is automatically issued. The camera has the power to photograph your vehicle, with license plate in full view, as well as track the speed of the vehicle. The offender does not get pulled over by the officer at the time of the offense, nor is he warned by an officer. Rather, a few weeks later, he receives notice of his infraction in the mail. Tickets range anywhere from $50 to $500, depending on the exceeded speed limit while driving. The ticket issued goes up by increments of $50 per every five miles the driver exceeds the speed limit.
You can imagine my horror and disbelief when I received four of these tickets in one week, all ranging from $100 to $300. I couldn't believe it especially since the so-called offenses took place a few weeks previously. How could this be? Surely, I thought, there must be some kind of mistake. Once my eyes regained focus, I saw that the offenses were indeed accurate. The radar camera clearly showed my vehicle driving down Michigan Avenue well beyond the 25 mph speed limit. There was no denying it: Pictures don't lie.
For the next few weeks, I was terrorized going to my own mailbox. Uncle Sam was watching and at any moment I could be slapped with a huge speeding ticket. And worst of all, there was no getting out of it. The fine would have to be paid within 30 days. Otherwise, the fine would be automatically doubled and my driver's license revoked.
Terrified of getting more speeding tickets and incurring even more debt, I have become obsessed with driving within the speed limit. However, it appears that I am the only person who drives at the ant pace of 25 mph on Michigan Avenue. The disgruntled drivers on the road have made rude gestures and appear to be verbally abusive to me as they speed by.
Ironically, if the driver does not drive within the speed limit, he will be ridiculously fined, and if he does, he risks incurring an accident by driving so slowly. Worse still, he risks being the victim of road rage one of the most horrific instances recently occurring in the greater Washington area, when a man was shot to death for cutting someone off. The question then remains: Why is the city saturated with speeding limits that do not reflect the average speed of drivers? In fact, the limit is usually 20 mph lower than what drivers normally drive.
The answer is simple: money and lots of it. Traffic and speeding tickets are one of the easiest ways for the city to increase its revenue. It's the fastest growing cash cow and the government knows it. According to the Metropolitan Police Department's Web site (www.mpdc.org), more than $12 million in fines have been collected from roughly 231,000 citations since the radar camera program was introduced in August 1999. And according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Times, the city is expected to reap a staggering $11 million a year from fines.
However, if the revenue incurred by these tickets is supposed to benefit the citizens of the District, as Police Chief Charles Ramsey claims, then why are the majority of offenders minorities who are struggling to make ends meet? If the infractions have the power to put a middle-class person like myself in small debt, what are the consequences for low-income Americans?
The D.C. Bureau of Traffic Adjudication is congested on a daily basis with a long line of disgruntled blacks and Hispanics, who grumble about the unfairness of the radar system. All the people in line bitterly complain about how many tickets they have received and lament that they had not been warned. More worrisome is how they are going to pay these fines off. Heaven knows getting your license revoked, receiving a bad credit rating or being branded a criminal for not paying a fine is the last thing low-income D.C. residents need.
Since the speeding radar system has been implemented, 2,438 erroneous speeding tickets have been issued. This proves that the system is not foolproof as the District claims. The officers operating these radars are making numerous mistakes, and the city has had to reimburse those wrongly fined.
Speeding radar cameras should be outlawed. Apart from being inaccurate and a liability to D.C. residents, they are an infringement of our privacy; our constitutional rights are being ignored. If the government has the right to watch us unbeknownst on the streets, soon these cameras will be monitoring us in the privacy of our own homes.
Drivers beware: Uncle Sam is watching.

Loredana Vuoto is an editorial writer for The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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