- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Citations issued by the District’s traffic-enforcement cameras don’t count as points against drivers’ records, but they can damage credit reports if the fines aren’t paid.

Unpaid fines, which the D.C. government seeks to acquire through a private collection agency, can register as delinquencies in credit reports even if the drivers do not receive citations in the mail.

Under the red-light and speeding camera programs, a citation is mailed to the registered owner of a vehicle photographed committing a violation.

If the owner is a car-rental company, the firm is responsible for returning the notice to the District with information about who was driving the vehicle when the ticket was issued. The District then mails the notice to the driver.

Notices, however, sometimes get lost in the mail or are sent to the wrong addresses.

Metropolitan Police Department officials say the District sends five notices to delinquent drivers over eight months, based on records in a city database, before turning over the matter to a collection agency.

But the database could contain old information, said department spokesman Kevin Morison.

For example, if an out-of state-driver changes addresses after the city updates the database, the notices might never reach the driver, the spokesman said.

“If the District’s database was out of date, that could be a serious problem,” Mr. Morison said.

He said 15,532 of the 316,341 camera-generated citations issued, or slightly less than 5 percent, were returned to the District from October to last month.

The database is maintained by ACS State and Local Solutions Inc. of Dallas, which holds a $7.2 million contract to provide equipment and maintenance involving the District’s 49 red-light cameras, 12 mobile photo-radar units and 10 stationary speed cameras.

The contract runs through September and includes operation of the collection agency, LDC Collection Systems.

A ticket for a red-light violation in the District carries a $75 fine, and speeding violations can cost as much as $200 depending on the severity, officials said.

The speed cameras have generated more than $100 million in fines since installation in 2001, including a record $28.9 million last year, police department statistics show.

The red-light cameras have generated more than $34 million since 1999, including $5.2 million last year, statistics show.

City officials said they occasionally receive complaints from motorists who had been unaware had been cited. It wasn’t until a credit report or separate citation emerged to indicate a problem in their past.

The officials said D.C. and out-of-state residents who call to complain are directed to the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles’ Web site (dmv.dc.gov), where they can complete a form to explain why the tickets were not paid. An officer can reduce the penalty if the driver gives a plausible reason for not having paid the fine, officials said.

A driver cannot be arrested and cars cannot be booted for delinquent payments of fines generated by camera enforcement because those citations do not go on a driver’s permanent record, a police spokesman said.

Rebecca Pawlowski, a spokeswoman for the Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corp., said tourists have complained about being ticketed by the cameras but not about being contacted by the collection agency.

“If tourists were in that position, I don’t think they would be happy,” she said.

Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the motorist club AAA Mid-Atlantic, said drivers who do not receive notices but are contacted by the collection agency are treated unfairly.

“This is an unreasonable treatment of motorists,” he said. “These folks did not get a first notice or a second notice, and now they have a collection agency bearing down on them for something they knew nothing of.

“It’s one thing to not pay legitimate debt of which you’re knowledgeable and given every opportunity to pay,” Mr. Anderson said. “The question is: Is the District cashing in on motorists? And the answer is ‘yes.’”

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