- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

The District’s automated speed-camera program marked its fifth anniversary in June by reporting more than $111 million in fines collected since its inception in 2001.

According to Metropolitan Police Department statistics, the $2.3 million in fines collected last month brings this calendar year’s total to more than $16 million — well ahead of last year’s pace when a record $28.9 million was collected.

But the program also hit the five-year mark with a record-low percentage of speeding motorists.

Just 1.9 percent of the 1.9 million motorists monitored in the District were caught speeding in June — the lowest monthly percentage since the speed cameras were introduced in July 2001, according to police statistics.

By comparison, 30.9 percent of monitored vehicles were caught speeding during the program’s inaugural month.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the record percentage bolsters his push to expand the program, which began with six cruisers outfitted with cameras. There are now 12 camera-equipped vehicles rotating through nearly 80 enforcement zones and 10 cameras at fixed locations.

“I’m very pleased with results thus far,” Chief Ramsey said. “I think it argues strongly for expansion so we can see similar results across the city.”

New enforcement-zone areas such as Rock Creek Road in Northwest have been considered recently, although the chief said there are no immediate plans for expansion.

The most recent additions — stationary cameras in the 600 block of New York Avenue Northeast and in the 3400 block of Benning Road Northeast — were activated in October.

Many city officials and residents have praised the program, but critics contend that decisions regarding the cameras are influenced by revenue.

The annual amount of collected revenue generated by the speed cameras has increased steadily since 2001, culminating with the record total last year.

The city’s 49 red-light cameras have generated more than $36 million since their inception in August 1999, including $5.2 million last year.

Fines for speeding can be as much as $200. The fine for running a red light is $75. No photo-enforced violation in the District carries points.

Police have long defended automated traffic enforcement as strictly a tool for making city streets and roadways safer, though Mayor Anthony A. Williams has conceded in the past that the revenue was an “ancillary” benefit of the program.

The collected revenue from automated traffic enforcement is deposited in the city’s general fund. D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, has argued that the revenue should be diverted to the Highway Trust Fund for road repairs and highway improvements.

In November, automobile-owner group AAA designated the District as a “strict enforcement area” — the first time in the organization’s 106-year history that an entire city received the label.

“The reduction in [speeders] is in part due to the publicity from the written articles, our designation and the public’s disgust with getting the tickets,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “People know by now to keep their ears open and eyes peeled. D.C. is not the place where you want to speed.”

Mr. Townsend applauded last month’s record-low percentage.

“It’s a sign that motorists’ driving habits have positively changed, which is a good thing,” he said. “We’re not diametrically opposed to the cameras. We just want to make sure they’re fair and equitable for all motorists.”

Police have also been criticized about the placement of the cameras and the fairness of speed limits in certain enforcement zones.

Last year, Mr. Mendelson and fellow council members Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, and Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat, introduced a bill calling for the city and Mr. Williams, a Democrat, to re-evaluate the speed limits on streets where cameras are used.

But in other areas, such as Florida Avenue in Northeast near Gallaudet University, residents have praised the deployment of the cameras in their neighborhoods.

At the Florida Avenue location, where the city’s first stationary camera was positioned in 2004, a rash of speeding-relating fatalities had occurred in the area prior to the camera’s placement.

Chief Ramsey said the department often receives suggestions and requests from residents for additional locations for enforcement zones.

Though the number of traffic fatalities has fluctuated since the speed cameras were implemented in 2001, there were 49 deaths last year compared with 71 in 2001.

However, police have no statistics showing a correlation between the automated-enforcement program and a reduction in traffic deaths or crashes.

So far this year, there have been 24 traffic deaths, the same as this time last year.

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