- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The District’s red-light camera program has garnered millions of dollars in wrongly issued fines that the city is not obligated to refund, according to a study by the car owners club AAA Mid-Atlantic.

In 2017, AAA found that red-light cameras since 2013 were issuing $150 fines for cars that made rolling right-on-red turns, as well as for cars that ran through red lights. But the actual fine for a rolling right turn is $50, meaning the cameras were overcharging those violators $100 per ticket.

The Metropolitan Police Department has corrected the error and now reviews the tickets issued by the red-light cameras, which saved motorists $2.2 million in 2018. But many have yet to receive a refund for the erroneous fines from years past.

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From fiscal 2007 through the first six months of fiscal 2019, “the District has issued approximately 935,476 red-light camera tickets and garnered around $114.5 million in photo-red revenue,” said AAA spokesman John Townsend. “Even though drivers are no longer unwittingly forced to pay too much for fines, some ticketed motorists are still smarting. Many are troubled by the fact that District is not issuing refunds for their excessive payments for specific red-light violations.”

Gabriel Robinson, director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles said that motorists already have had the opportunity to contest the fines.

“Based on the DC DMV’s long-established adjudication process, all motorists have an opportunity to contest any aspect of a moving violation by submitting a written explanation, including any documentation or evidence that supports their request within the allowable timeline,” Mr. Robinson said in an email. “However, once a fine or penalty has been paid, this is equivalent to an admission of guilt and no other legal remedies exist to contest a violation and/or receive a refund. Additionally, at the time the tickets in question were issued, the fine amounts charged were not in error.”

It is unclear how much motorists were overcharged. Metropolitan Police told WJLA-TV in 2017 that about 23% of the red-light violations were rolling right turns. If that’s accurate, motorists over five years paid almost $10 million more than is required for the violation.

In 2018, the year after the District corrected the red-light camera issue, the District saw the number of red-light camera tickets decline from more than 100,000 to just over 45,000, and red-light camera revenue fall from $12.5 million to $5.7 million, according to an AAA press release.

The police department attributed the decrease in violations to many red-light cameras being deactivated because of citywide construction and said they will be reinstalled after the construction is complete.

The D.C. Council in 2013 changed the fines for certain traffic violations, including turning right on red, after receiving backlash over the high price for traffic violations compared to other jurisdictions.

On Monday, the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold a public hearing to discuss the transfer of responsibility of the automated traffic enforcement program from the police department to the District Department of Transportation.

Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chair of the Transportation Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

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