Use of red-light cameras in Washington area increases

A mobile speed camera vehicle sits on New York Avenue NE just before the red light at Bladensburg Road in the District.
A mobile speed camera vehicle sits on New York Avenue NE just before the red light at Bladensburg Road in the District. (Mark Gail/the Washington Post)
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By Christy Goodman and Megan Buerger
Wednesday, February 23, 2011; 1:18 PM

Don't run that red light. The intersection is probably monitored by a camera.

Since the first red-light cameras were installed in Arlington County in 1995, jurisdictions throughout the Washington region began snapping scofflaws, collecting fines as high as $75. Now, about 158 intersections are wired, and more will be soon.

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."

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