"America's roads and highways are safer than ever," Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta proclaimed in releasing his department's annual compilation of highway deaths and injuries that showed that fatalities had declined nationwide last year [news story, Aug. 11].

Unfortunately, the local picture is different: The District led the nation with a whopping 43 percent increase in highway deaths, jumping from 47 to 67 fatalities. Virginia's highway deaths also rose, by 3.2 percent, with 943 lives lost, 29 more than in 2002. Only Maryland had a reduction, of 1.8 percent, with "only" 649 people killed on the state's roads, 12 fewer than in 2002.

D.C. statistics should trigger some introspection about enforcement of red-light-running and speeding laws, which increasingly is being relegated to automated cameras. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has touted the success of this approach -- the largest and most aggressive in the nation -- and has assured us it is working and saving lives. That may be true if "working" means raising revenue.

Perhaps more troubling, though, is that Chief Ramsey recently said that traffic enforcement was not a core activity of his department. Of course, fighting crime and providing homeland security are critical, but traffic enforcement can't be relegated to being an extracurricular activity.

The District has flunked the most basic test in highway safety, and it needs to return to the drawing board. The police must make highway safety a core function again by making police officers, not automated cameras, responsible for saving lives on city streets.



Public and Government Relations

AAA Mid-Atlantic