After D.C. hoisted speed limits on some roads, camera-generated tickets and revenue fell

The number of speeding tickets pumped out by several automated cameras — and the corresponding revenue raked in — have dropped by more than half since the District bumped up speed limits on the roadways they monitor.

Five of the most prolific speed cameras issued 54,226 fewer tickets in the seven months after the speed limit change, a loss of almost $8.4 million in revenue, than they did during the same period last year, according to data compiled by AAA.

“There is no empirical evidence that traffic safety was compromised along these roadways,” said AAA’s John B. Townsend II. “It’s proof that the city can strike the right balance in enhancing public safety.”

The District increased the speed limit by 5 mph on a half-dozen of the city’s busiest roadways late last year, listening to the complaints of drivers who said those limits were unreasonably low. At the same time, District officials responded to criticism of the speeding fines by lowering them to an average of $92.

Although a Washington Post poll in June found almost 2-to-1 support for using automated cameras that catch drivers running red lights, only 53 percent of respondents said they favored the use of speed cameras.

A windfall from Washington’s speed camera

Speeding is one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities, and researchers have documented that automated speed cameras are effective in slowing down drivers. The District and 13 states have approved the use of speed cameras. A dozen other states have passed laws prohibiting their use.

To determine the impact on tickets and revenue after the changes in speed limits and fines, AAA compared data from five cameras for the period of December 2011 through June 2012 with data from last December to June of this year.

The camera on Interstate 295 had a 51 percent decrease in tickets and a revenue decline of almost 60 percent. Tickets dropped by 83 percent on Canal Road, and ticket income was down 87 percent. Two cameras on Benning Road NE had reductions of 67 percent and 82 percent in numbers of tickets issued; revenue was down 73 percent and 85 percent.

One of the five cameras did show an increase in tickets generated and income. Located on westbound New York Avenue just before Bladensburg Road, the camera’s ticket output went up 43 percent and income increased by 16 percent. The difference came when the District replaced a camera mounted on a police car that was parked at the location intermittently with a permanent camera located in a metal box beside the road.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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