The devices are growing in popularity and got a boost from a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that found traffic fatalities at District intersections with photo enforcement dropped 26 percent from 2004 to 2008.
Despite objections from people who say the cameras are to raise revenue and those who dislike the feeling that "big brother" is watching, Maryland and the District are increasing their extensive inventories.
Cameras will be installed in about a year at District intersections that have demonstrated a need, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier told The Washington Post this month.
AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson criticized the District's automated enforcement program.
"Police continue to say what a great job the red-light cameras are doing saving lives," he said. "Well, if people are learning from their mistakes, they shouldn't be running the red lights anymore. Revenue should have plummeted by now, and it hasn't. The District is making as much, if not more, revenue than ever. That tells me the system is corrupt."
The District, in the lead with 52 wired intersections, began installing cameras in 1999, after a citywide survey showed that unsafe driving was residents' top safety concern.
The District's 37 wired intersections in 2000 generated $7.2 million. Five years and eight additional intersections later, revenue dropped to less than $5 million, but it jumped back to $7.2 million in 2009.
"The council and police staff swear it isn't about revenue, but that's just crazy," Anderson said. "To say it is a cash cow is an understatement; it is a cash herd."
Lanier, however, disagrees.
"We are not doing this for revenue but to modify driving behavior," she said. "We attribute much of the success we've had in reducing traffic fatalities to our photo-enforcement initiatives. Our traffic fatalities have been cut in half in four years. The results speak for themselves."
In Virginia, officials are navigating new laws after a two-year ban on red-light cameras.
Legislators who questioned their legitimacy imposed the ban in 2005, after the cameras had been active for a decade. As a result, Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church and Vienna removed their systems.
"I really think it is a horrendous invasion of privacy and a dishonest way for local governments to raise revenue," said Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large).
Virginia began allowing cameras again in 2007. Arlington and Falls Church are the only Northern Virginia jurisdictions that have been able to get through what officials describe as a lengthy Department of Transportation approval process.