D.C. red-light, speed cameras rake in a record $55 million

Daniel Britt/THE WASHINGTON POST - Speed cameras on I-395 in the District. Revenue from D.C. traffic cameras rose in fiscal 2011 even as the number of tickets dropped.

The District’s use of cameras to catch speeders and red-light runners reaped a record $55.1 million in 2011, and the cameras are likely to generate even more revenue this year, AAA said Thursday.

The city has already issued $40.3 million in automated enforcement tickets in this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, AAA said. The automobile association filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the data.

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In the first seven months of the fiscal year, the District issued 419,523 automated speeding tickets and 52,797 automated red-light tickets, AAA said.

“When they arrive in the mail, speed camera tickets and red-light camera tickets serve as a wake-up call and a dire warning to speeders and red-light runners to change their ways,” said AAA spokesman John B. Townsend II. “But they also enrich the city’s coffers [and] motorists gripe and groan. The city is ‘rolling in the dough,’ to use an old idiom.”

The AAA analysis found that fewer tickets were issued in fiscal 2011 than in the previous year. But the District achieved record revenue because more people paid fines and the fines were increased, from an average of $50 to an average of $125 in the case of speeding tickets.

“The city increased automated traffic tickets fines, along with 71 other traffic fines for the stated purpose of increasing the revenue stream flowing into the city’s coffer,” Townsend said. “District officials say it is all about improving traffic safety in the District. After adding more cameras and increasing traffic fines, motorists suspect the city is mostly interested in improving its bottom line, while paying lip service to safety.”

The District and 24 states use red-light cameras. Speeding cameras are used in the District and 13 states.

Maryland allows statewide use of red-light cameras and permits speed cameras in Montgomery County and in Prince George’s school zones. They also are used in highway work zones.

Virginia allows local jurisdictions to use red-light cameras but has no provision to allow speeding cameras.

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