Arlington to install four red-light cameras at intersections

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2010

Three years after the Virginia legislature bowed to pressure and gave it the green light, Arlington is installing red-light cameras at four intersections.

"Our focus is on safety, not on generating revenue," said Detective Crystal L. Nosal, anticipating the question many drivers would ask.

She pointed out that an officer at an intersection can level a $100 fine and $60 in fees, while state law limits the levy for those caught on camera to $50, and a say-cheese violation carries no points.

"It's not going to make more money," she said. "It will make people more aware and less likely to slip through a yellow light."

The cameras, all but one of them at intersections on busy Lee Highway, will be activated on June 14, and for the first 30 days violators will receive a warning rather than a citation.

Red-light cameras were in vogue in Northern Virginia from 1995 to 2005, before the General Assembly bowed to opponents who said they caused more accidents than they prevented. Legislators were persuaded to ban them by studies that showed drivers who feared the camera would slam on their brakes and be rammed from behind.

Richmond did an about-face in 2007, when pressure from urban jurisdictions that wanted to use the cameras carried the day.

With the debate over their virtues still whirling, the Federal Highway Administration and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) ran a comparison of intersection crashes during the seven years the cameras were used in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Falls Church and Vienna.

They determined that rear-end crashes did increase by 27 percent when cameras were used, but crashes in which a car ran a red light and struck another vehicle at an angle decreased by 42 percent.

The city of Fairfax resumed using the cameras, and they also are common in the District and other suburban jurisdictions.

Arlington received approval from VDOT several months ago. The 2007 law requires police departments to submit detailed proposals, including engineering analyses of intersections, for each camera they wish to place. The state law stipulates that for every 10,000 residents, a county can install cameras at one intersection.

The contractor hired to handle the camera operation is not paid per ticket, Nosal said, and all citations will be reviewed by a police officer before they are mailed.

In selecting the first four installation sites, she said, the county took into account the number of accidents at each.

"We're approved for 20," Nosal said, "because we have a population of 200,000."

The first four will be installed at eastbound Lee Highway and North Lynn Street; southbound Fort Myer Drive and westbound Lee Highway; westbound Lee Highway at Washington Boulevard; and northbound Glebe Road at Fairfax Drive.

Nosal said that 11 other intersections are under review, but that she did not anticipate installing cameras anytime soon because "we just don't move that fast."

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