The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Good news: Red-light-camera tickets decline in D.C. Bad news: It’s still a lot of money.

On 16th street NW, there’s a double camera that can tag cars from both the southbound and northbound lanes in D.C. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

The number of red-light-camera violations issued in the nation’s capital fell for the fifth year in a row.

Yet the District still hauled in more money from its red-light cameras than Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, even though those suburban neighbors issued more tickets.

Does that suggest that Washington installed the cameras to (a) raise revenue, (b) improve safety or (c) both?

Bikers blow through red light cameras with impunity, TV news reports. Firestorm ensues.

The city issued a mere 65,648 red-light-camera tickets in fiscal 2015, a drop of nearly 8.5 percent compared with 71,739 tickets the previous year, according to data released Wednesday by AAA Mid-Atlantic. The latest figure is the lowest since fiscal 2008. Revenue dropped to $10.5 million from $11.9 million in the same period.

Compare that to Prince George’s, which issued 70,751 red-light-camera tickets in fiscal 2015, or nearly 8 percent more than the District. And still Prince George’s took in less money than Washington. Same thing in Montgomery, which issued 69,385 tickets. In fact, although the District issued slightly more tickets than Montgomery, the nation’s capital hauled in five times as much revenue, AAA says.

Since 2007, red-light cameras have transformed dozens of ordinary street corners in the nation’s capital into moneymakers. Every time a motorist passes the “Don’t Go” sign, the city collects $150. With just 42 to 48 cameras in place, the city has made out like the grubby little top-hat guy from Monopoly, raking in nearly $86 million since fiscal 2007, AAA says. The District’s fine has bite, too, compared with $75 in Maryland and $50 in Virginia, AAA says.

D.C. is really good at writing parking tickets. Sometimes sneaky, too.

The organization says it is also not just motorists playing fast and loose with the rules here. The organization says the highest percentage of tickets go to drivers “who stopped beyond on [sic] the intersection threshold line or beyond the stop line but who never crossed the intersection.” Sometimes D.C. red-light cameras unfairly nab drivers turning right on red, AAA says. And the city’s yellow lights turn red at a suspiciously hasty rate, AAA says. Not only is that playing dirty pool — because it’s harder to come to a stop in time for the red and, therefore, easier to get ticketed — quick-changing yellows can also cause drivers to slam the brakes, causing rear-end collisions.

It’s probably why, although about 9 out of 10 drivers abhor the thought of someone blowing through a red light and view this as a threat to their personal safety, only a little more than half (53.5 percent) like the idea of red-light cameras in urban areas, AAA says.

But AAA — which has called out the District for using automated traffic-control devices that have been unfairly located or calibrated — acknowledged that the city’s red-light cameras might be having a desired effect. Or, as AAA spokesman John B. Townsend II put it: “The red-light cameras might be wheedling more drivers to modify or to change their wicked, wicked driving ways.”

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