Monday, August 25, 2003

D.C. officials said yesterday that they have no plans to modify their use of automated traffic-enforcement cameras after a prominent traffic-safety advocate called the program a “shakedown.”

“We’re confident the program is being administered fairly, and that people’s civil rights are not being violated, and the courts have upheld us on this,” said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

“Despite the ongoing crusade against these things by The Washington Times, we’re going to continue to use these until they’re proven ineffective or we no longer have a problem,” he said.

In a speech yesterday to the Governors Highway Safety Association’s national convention in New Orleans, Lon Anderson, director of public and government relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic, called for a motorists’ “bill of rights” against automated enforcement programs, which he says are being used to generate revenue instead of enforce laws.

Mr. Anderson said the bulk of citations from red-light cameras are issued to motorists who run red lights by only fractions of a second, and that the cameras don’t do enough to stop egregious red-light runners.

He said the use of the cameras to raise money erodes the fire wall between law enforcement and revenue raising.

The Times, which obtained an advance copy of Mr. Anderson’s speech, reported its contents yesterday.

“What people really ought to do is drive the speed limit and not run red lights,” Mr. Bullock said. “That’s the advice AAA ought to be giving its members.”

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey differed with Mr. Anderson’s assessment about the cameras being used to generate revenue.

“That bothers me because that’s not the case,” the chief said.

“It’s public safety. I mean, we’ve reduced the number of accidents, reduced the amount of speeding,” he said.

According to D.C. police statistics, the percentage of vehicles speeding aggressively in the District’s photo-radar enforcement zones has declined from nearly 31 percent of all vehicles in July 2001, when the program was implemented, to fewer than 7 percent in May 2003.

Police say traffic fatalities fell nearly 30 percent last year, from 71 to 50.

This year, however, traffic fatalities are up from 39 at this time last year to 43.

“That just goes to show you probably need more [cameras] and not less,” Chief Ramsey said. “Speed is behind most of it.”

Police yesterday could not provide statistics on how many of the traffic-related deaths this year resulted from red-light running, speeding or other causes such as drunken driving.

Mr. Anderson’s organization supports automated enforcement when it is “initiated, motivated and run for safety purposes.”

It withdrew its support of the District’s automated enforcement program in October after Mr. Williams conceded that generating revenue was a factor in the city’s use of the cameras.

“They’ve worked for us — and not in terms of bringing revenue into the District,” Mr. Bullock said yesterday. “They’re a deterrent. There’s no doubt they have success in affecting the behavior of motorists.”

Chief Ramsey pointed out that the number of tickets issued at all of the city’s 39 intersections equipped with red-light cameras have declined since those cameras were installed in August 1999.

Police say red-light running has decreased 59.4 percent, with 22,500 fewer citations being issued each month.

“The whole thing to show you it’s working is the revenue should go down if it’s effective because fewer tickets are being written because fewer people are violating the law,” Chief Ramsey said. “I’d be OK if [the revenue] was zero.”

In his speech yesterday, Mr. Anderson called for all citations to be reviewed by a trained police officer before they are issued and for drivers to be presumed innocent when automated citations are issued.

Jurisdictions should buy or rent their enforcement equipment instead of paying for it by way of commissions, he said.

Mr. Anderson said that if jurisdictions want to prove that revenue is not the motivating factor behind their traffic cameras, they should devote the money from fines to traffic safety and not put it in their general funds.

According to Metropolitan Police statistics, the District collected $21,974,285 in fines from red-light camera citations from August 1999 through June 2003.

The red-light cameras issued 377,743 citations, of which 253,911 have been paid.

In addition, the city collected $30,331,113 in fines from photo-radar cameras from August 2001 through June 2003.

The anti-speeding cameras issued 587,434 citations, of which 408,191 have been paid.

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