D.C. officials weighing lower traffic camera fines

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Photo - Traffic camera in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Traffic camera in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Liz Farmer

D.C. Council members could lower fines for traffic cameras in the District after complaints from residents that city officials are using the program as a revenue generator to fill budget gaps.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh said the task force she co-chairs with Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells will discuss on Wednesday more "reasonable" levies then the $150 fine dished out for many first-time offenders. Automated traffic enforcement fines have increased by as much as 500 percent over the past four years, a rate that Cheh said was in many ways arbitrary.

"It was -- I think you cannot escape it -- a revenue raiser more than it was a thoughtful consideration of what you need to deter people," Cheh said. "That's what we're trying to figure out, and it may be quite possible that some of these fees will come down as a result."

Caught on tape
Traffic camera fines in the District:
Speeding 11 to 20 mph over limit -- $125 to $150
Speeding more than 20 mph over limit -- $250
Running a red light -- $150
Source: Office of Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh

Cheh's office is working on legislation that could go before the council as early as this fall, according to her office. The bill would restructure the fines, which in the District range as high as $250 for speeding offenses and are a flat $150 for running a red light.

A spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic said the car club has long pushed for the District to lower its fines, which are "significantly" higher than those in surrounding jurisdictions.

"We've always found their fines too excessive," said Christopher Falkenhagen.

Surrounding Maryland jurisdictions issue tickets ranging from $40 for speeding to $75 for running a red light. Virginia only has red light cameras, which result in citations of $50 per violation.

Meanwhile, a $23 million surge in camera ticket revenue late in the 2012 fiscal year, which ended Sunday, contributed to a surplus of at least $140 million for the year, officials announced last week. Final statistics weren't immediately available, but through July, the city had hauled in nearly $65 million through the cameras, records show.

Earlier this year, Mayor Vincent Gray said he'd eventually like to "cover the entire city" with speed cameras, and his fiscal 2013 budget proposal called for new cameras to cover $30 million of a projected $172 million shortfall.

However, the mayor's office and Cheh say the primary purpose of the camera program is to increase safety.

"As a byproduct, do we get revenue? Are we mindful of that? Will we put it into the budget to some extent? Probably yes," Cheh said Monday. "But first and foremost it should be about safety, it should be about a fair amount aimed at deterrence and in some cases punishment."

Wells created the task force this summer to study the city's fine structure for the camera program. The task force has asked interested parties including AAA, the D.C. Department of Transportation and D.C. police to weigh in on the issue.

lfarmer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Liz Farmer

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner