D.C. ponders lower traffic camera fines

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Photo - D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells is creating a task force to study lowering traffic camera fines. (Examiner file photo)
D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells is creating a task force to study lowering traffic camera fines. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Transportation,Liz Essley

D.C. residents have been complaining for years about traffic cameras that dispense $125 tickets like candy. Now, at least one council member says he wants to do something about it.

With fines increasing by 250 percent to 500 percent over the past four years, Councilman Tommy Wells, D-Ward 6, announced Thursday he is creating a special task to study the possibility of lowering the charges.

"The goal is to make sure the automated enforcement program is about safety, not just revenue," Wells said in a statement.

Lowering the fines, though, could run into opposition on a council that is actually counting on an increase in those fines to help fund the District's budget.

The District's traffic cameras generated $55 million in last year's budget, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. But council expects to take in an extra $30 million this year and is adding cameras around the city to generate the additional tickets that will provide the added revenue.

Traffic camera fines in the District run between $75 and $250 each. In neighboring Montgomery County, camera fines are just $40.

The cameras and hefty fines are supported by pedestrian safety advocates, who say they help slow careening motorists and make streets safer. At the very least, fines shouldn't be reduced until more cameras are in place to catch offenders, pedestrian advocate David Alpert argued.

"If we can entice drivers to follow the law without having to have very high fines, then we should," he said. "Research shows it's more effective to catch people more often but charge them less."

Wells said his task force would have to devise a way to lower the fines but still generate the millions in revenue the budget requires -- or it could simply recommend lowering the revenue projection for the cameras in future budgets. Legislation calling for lower fines could be introduced in the fall, he said.

The AAA Mid-Atlantic D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council, D.C. Bicycle Advisory Council and Council for Court Excellence have agreed to participate in the task force.

"This is empirical evidence that city hall is listening," said AAA Mid-Atlantic's John Townsend.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

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