- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

Traffic fatalities in the District were down dramatically in 2004, officials said yesterday, thanks to red-light cameras and speed radar.

There were 45 traffic deaths in 2004, down from 69 in 2003, the Metropolitan Police Department said. It was the lowest number of traffic fatalities in the 18 years that complete statistics have been compiled.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey both credited the city’s traffic cameras with reducing red-light running, speeding and aggressive driving.

Reductions in aggressive driving, said Chief Ramsey, “translated into fewer fatalities.”

“While nobody likes to get a ticket, the reality is that vigorous and consistent enforcement does change driving behavior, which in turn makes our streets safer for everyone,” he said.

Police said that aggressive driving in photo-radar enforcement zones has declined from 30 percent in July 2001, when the camera program began, to 4 percent in recent months.

However, the number of arrests for driving at least 30 mph over the speed limit, an offense the police call “extremely serious,” has “increased sharply” since 2000.

Police said 726 drivers were arrested for that over the last two years, but did not provide numbers for 2000 to 2002, and said they could not do so when asked.

A ticket for a red-light violation in the District costs $75, and speeding violations can cost up to $200, depending on how fast the driver was going, according to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Web site (www.mpdc.dc.gov).

Since August 2001, speed cameras have been placed in eight police cruisers that monitor 75 designated spots throughout the District. The program has generated more than $63 million in fines. The fines from red-light cameras at 39 intersections have totaled more than $28 million since 1999.

Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said he was not convinced that traffic cameras are the reason for the decrease in fatalities on the road.

“It’s too early to tell whether it’s cameras. I hope it is. Cameras certainly have the ability to have a positive effect if they’re used properly,” Mr. Anderson said.

He pointed out that in 2003, the number of fatalities increased by 20, to 69 up from 49 in 2002. He said that though the District has added more cameras now, they still had the largest network of traffic cameras in the country then.

“I’m always glad to hear any time I hear the number of deaths has been reduced,” he said. “But it’s probably early to know what the cause is. Because if that’s the cause, would that also be the cause for 2003?”

Mr. Anderson has been critical of the mayor’s contention that the cameras are being implemented chiefly to improve safety on city streets.

“I hope they’re using them for safety, but it seems they’re using them for revenue, and that’s unacceptable to AAA,” he said.

Jim McElhatton contributed to this report.

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