- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

How fitting that red-light cameras will make their return to Virginia following a late-night, back-room discussion held far from public scrutiny. In closed session well after midnight on Wednesday, the Fairfax City Council finalized its unanimous approval of a contract re-establishing a red-light camera program. Under the agreement, a foreign company will pay the city for the right to issue tickets and collect citation revenue for infractions at traffic signals. The motivation for this program is money, not safety.

City leaders shouldn’t start counting the cash just yet. The game has changed from when these systems were new and Fairfax led with the Commonwealth’s very first automated traffic-ticketing program almost a dozen years ago. Since then, opponents have become more savvy. A handful of area residents spent time during the meeting distributing pamphlets in the lobby as weary members of the public departed before the end of the marathon session. Undoubtedly, most citizens were not pleased to read that their elected council representative intended to reinstate a program that appears to have been a failure safety-wise.

According to Virginia Department of Transportation data, photo-enforced intersections saw an 18 percent rise in the number of injury accidents. Fairfax figures have been equally troubling. At Main Street and Pickett Road, for example, the total number of accidents jumped nearly five-fold after the city began issuing red-light tickets. The statistics are explained by the natural reaction of motorists to slam on their brakes to try to avoid a ticket at intersections where there is a traffic camera, thus increasing accidents, particularly rear-end collisions. With these facts known, it is impossible to draw the conclusion that the renewed ticketing program will contribute to an improvement in public safety.

Nationwide, the tide is turning against traffic cameras that generate revenue while endangering motorists. Within the past few years, voters have taken matters into their own hands and amended city charters in Cincinnati and Steubenville, Ohio to strip city councils of the right to implement a photo ticketing program. Similar petitions have spread to Toledo and Arnold, Mo., and are gaining support. The push is strongest in Arizona, where outgoing Democrat Gov. Janet Napolitano’s scheme to balance the budget with hundreds of photo-radar vans on state freeways has generated so much outrage that a new group, camerafraud.com, this week announced a signature drive that would put the question of a camera-ticketing ban to voters in the next election.

What Fairfax officials - not to mention lawmakers in D.C. and Maryland - should note is that the same group has expanded to form a chapter right here in the Washington metropolitan area (website: dc.camerafraud.com). It appears that the safety bluff is about to be called.

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