NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #102

The Pressure of Public Exposure

Few opponents of photo enforcement would argue that Washington D.C. has few, if any, peers among major metropolitan areas when it comes to raking in traffic ticket revenue per capita. Before we hear howls of protest from the Midwest, it should be noted that Chicago comes to mind as giving the U.S. capital a run for its money. But the District of Columbia is strikingly aggressive in striving for ways to maximize its income from local commuters.

On December 3, 2010, Reporter Derek Kravitz of The Washington Post released an article that noted the prolific activity of several construction zone speed cameras on DC-295, even weeks after most of the roadside work had been completed. (Several questionable ticket-issuing practices rile up NMA members, but perhaps none as much as the doubling of fines and threats of prison time for exceeding construction zone speed limits, especially when there is no construction work going on.)

Kravitz noted that approximately 15,000 photo tickets were issued for speeding in that 295 work zone between mid-August and the end of October, with the revenue for the District approaching as much as $3.73 million. Construction work pretty much ended in the middle of October, but the speed cameras kept flashing away, “enforcing” the 35 mph limit when other non-work zone areas of the road are 10 mph higher. Commuter Nick Lewis saw one of the cameras flash as he passed by and angrily told Kravitz, “Everyone slams on their brakes when they see the (photo enforcement) signs, and the camera goes off like a machine gun. Within 200 yards, [the speed limit] goes back to 45 mph. That’s larceny.”

Just four days after that report, The Washington Post and Kravitz were able to print the sequel, which noted that the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) had removed the DC-295 work zone speed cameras.

While it is worthwhile to note that the scrutiny of the media and complaints by local motorists and media reports forced DDOT to finally shut down the ticket cameras, Washington D.C. is by no means reforming its ways regarding traffic enforcement. The money is simply too lucrative to ignore. Just this past June, Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that the fines for 71 different traffic violations were increased, with the expected revenue gain to be a cool $7 million through the end of September 2010. Small wonder that Mr. Fenty was not reelected as Mayor for 2011 and beyond.

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