While states such as Arizona and South Carolina are scaling back or eliminating speed cameras in the face of massive public opposition, the national capital region’s big spenders are moving in the opposite direction. In this area, safety and respect for the constitutional process take a back seat when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.
Beginning Aug. 11, Washington’s roving speed-camera vans will entrap motorists in a dozen new locations. The robotic devices have been an unqualified success for troubled city finances, having churned out 4,500,103 tickets with a face value of about $312 million as of May 31. That’s apparently not enough for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who wants to make up for the $3.4 million shortfall in ticketing revenue caused by snow drifts that blocked full deployment of mobile revenue-enhancement units in January and February. The District will take advantage of lowered speed limits and doubled fines at a pair of new locations on Interstate 295 to rake in even more cash than usual.
There is no doubt that it’s all about the money in Arlington, where red-light cameras began issuing tickets once again on Wednesday. Officials routinely claim that their robotic ticketing blitz will result magically in a reduction in angle collisions, which they say are the most dangerous. The Washington Times reviewed accident data at each of the four intersections in the county where cameras are installed. At Fort Myer Drive and Lee Highway, for example, there was only one angle collision over the course of three years. Overall, the combined monthly angle collision rate at the locations was just 0.15 incidents per month. It’s hard to see how cameras would help, especially when one considers that rear-end collisions more than doubled the last time Arlington embarked on this foolish experiment. According to the Virginia Transportation Research Council, the number of injuries also jumped 89 percent where cameras were used.
Officials in Alexandria showed a similar disregard for safety when they shortened the yellow time at South Patrick and Gibbon streets from four seconds to three in anticipation of restoring their automated cash grab. A city spokesman confirmed that although the cameras are installed and functioning, the devices have not begun issuing actual tickets. The program is on hold with no timeline for when it might restart.
Elsewhere in the country the tide has turned against the cameras. Last week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer shut down the Grand Canyon State’s reviled freeway photo-radar program. According to data released by the state Department of Public Safety, 61 percent of ticket recipients tossed their citations in the trash. The Republican governor got the message. So did the South Carolina legislature, which unanimously voted to ban speed cameras after a city announced its intention to deploy the devices on an interstate. The measure was signed into law last month.
While much of the Tea Party movement has focused its attention on national leaders who fail to listen to their constituents, it’s clear that housecleaning also is needed at the city council level - especially inside the Beltway.