District red light cameras rake in revenue as more tickets issued last year

The lucrative battle to keep drivers in the District from running red lights seems to be achieving more profit than success.

A record number of tickets were doled out in fiscal 2012 by intersection cameras that catch people when they hit the gas instead of the brake as the light turns yellow or who make what police call “rolling right turns” instead of first coming to a full stop.

There were 91,550 tickets issued by red-light cameras in the year that ended Oct. 1, an increase of almost 14,000 over the previous year, according to data AAA obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The District took in almost $13 million from red-light cameras last year, a $1.8 million increase over fiscal 2011, AAA said. Fines racked up by speed cameras amounted to $72 million. It received an additional $92 million in revenue from 1.9 million parking tickets.

“Drivers might as well face it, the District is a strict enforcement zone,” said John B. Townsend II of AAA. “The odds of getting a photo-enforced ticket are demonstrably greater in Washington, D.C., than they are in all of the surrounding jurisdictions combined. The District collects nearly two-thirds, a stunning 61.6 percent, of the [red-light camera] revenue total for the national capital area.”

The speeding and traffic light cameras have become more lucrative as their number in the District has increased. Combined, they issued tickets valued at $24.4 million in 2007. That figure more than doubled by 2010, to $50.9 million, and it reached $84.9 million in the last fiscal year.

The D.C. police say the number of tickets issued indicates that too many people are either unaware or disregard that it’s illegal to make a right turn at a red light without coming to a stop.

“Motorists who do not stop and look all ways prior to turning on a red light are endangering themselves and their passengers in addition to any pedestrians, bicyclists, and other motorists who have the right of way at that time,” said police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump.

New York Avenue, home to the District’s most lucrative speed camera (it issued 116,734 tickets valued at $11.6 million in one 23-month period), also is home to three of the five most productive red-light cameras. Together, those three cameras generated $2.1 million in ticket revenue in fiscal 2012.

Although it’s impossible to know, a great many of those tickets may be issued to vehicles stuck between crosswalks when the light turns red during the traffic congestion that plagues most of the day at each of the intersections.

The hottest red light cameras in the District, based on number of tickets issued last year, are at:

●Westbound New York Avenue at Fourth Street NW (5,297 tickets, worth $794,500).

●Southbound on the South Capitol Street ramp before I Street SW (4,884 tickets, worth $732,600).

●Westbound New York Avenue at Florida Avenue NE (4,849 tickets, worth $732,350).

●Westbound Suitland Parkway at Stanton Road SE (4,679 tickets, worth $701,850).

●Westbound New York Avenue at New Jersey Avenue NW (4,134 tickets, worth $620,100).

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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