The District issued almost a million speed-camera tickets last year, according to data released Wednesday, cementing the city’s regional reputation as a “speed trap” for residents and visiting motorists alike.
The number of tickets — which led to $99.2 million in revenue for the city — was nearly double that issued the previous year, according to AAA’s Mid-Atlantic chapter, which obtained the figures through a public-records request to the District’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
The District’s citations also far exceeded those in neighboring jurisdictions, according to the data collected by AAA. The District issued 994,163 speed-camera tickets, compared to 529,993 in Montgomery County and 263,302 in Prince George’s County. Virginia is prevented by state law from using speed cameras.
A D.C. police spokeswoman said the department could not independently confirm AAA’s figures.
The dramatic increase could revive debate about the cameras, which have caused controversy in many cities across the country where they have been set up.
In the District, being caught by a camera results in a ticket that can range from $50 to $300, depending on speed.
Research has shown that the presence of speed cameras leads to safer driving. But many motorists have mixed feelings about them, and some have argued that their true purpose is to serve as a cash cow for the governments that use them.
AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John B. Townsend II said the extraordinary number of tickets issued during the 2016 fiscal year suggested that the cameras were not deterring speeding and that they may be set up in a manner to “entrap and ensnare motorists as they come into the city.”
“What is astounding to us is the sheer number of tickets,” Townsend said. “Something is wrong when you’re issuing a million tickets a year.”
However, Townsend said he had no proof that the cameras had been set up with anything other than public safety in mind and said the purpose of AAA’s publication of the figures was merely to warn motorists that they should obey speed laws — especially in the District.
“This was more to let people know, and not to call for a policy change,” Townsend said.
Margarita Mikhaylova, a spokeswoman for D.C. police, said officials did not know what specific factors might be behind the sharp uptick in tickets but that “we would not be surprised that there was an increase given that MPD has improved a number of internal processes associated with our photo enforcement unit.”
She did not elaborate on what had been improved or how. Regardless of what the inquiries find, Mikhaylova said, the cameras’ purpose is to prevent accidents.
“This is 100 percent about safety,” she said.
D.C. officials have said that some previous periods of low revenue stemmed from problems maintaining the cameras and a resulting failure to capture speeding drivers.
LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), referred questions about how the District uses speed-camera revenue to officials at the District Department of Transportation.
Terry Owens, a spokesman for the District’s Department of Transportation, said money generated by the tickets pays for the operating costs of the cameras and $500,000 worth of grants under the city’s Vision Zero program, which is dedicated to eliminating fatalities related to walking, biking or driving in the District. Any excess goes into the city’s general fund, which pays for everything from schools to street repair, Owens said.
Some Maryland jurisdictions have seen speed-camera revenue decline in recent years — a development that the cameras’ supporters have hailed as a sign that fewer people are driving too fast.
After hitting a high of 845,475 citations in fiscal year 2012, the District seemed to be on a similar track, with citations dropping to 282,021 in fiscal year 2014, according to AAA. But the number of tickets began climbing again, with 520,104 citations in fiscal 2015, the organization said.
In fiscal year 2016, the number of tickets again increased, this time by 91 percent.