D.C. Task Force to Study Speeding Cameras

Barrington M. Salmon | 8/9/2012, 11:21 a.m.

Maryland resident Beverly Hunt said she gets a little apprehensive whenever she crosses the District line and she is extra vigilant as she travels to business meetings and other activities in the city.

Her biggest fears are speeding cameras and the range of automated ticketing instruments city officials have installed all around the District of Columbia.

"I think it's a rip-off," said Hunt, who runs a small public relations consultancy. "I get them all, speeding and everything else. I think the city could be more creative in ways to get money, such as casinos, for example. Everyone is getting into gaming. It's so ridiculous the amounts you pay. If I can meet in Maryland I do to avoid the speed traps and cameras, I do."

Hunt, 47, is not alone. A groundswell of anger has forced some city officials to revisit the question of automated ticketing at a time when the District is on a record pace to shatter the amount of money it collected last year.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), said she and her colleague Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), are in the process of bringing together a taskforce to study several elements of the issue, particularly the amount of fines the city is imposing.

"It's not a single thing that made us decide to do this," Cheh said. "The fines for automated traffic violations have gone up significantly. I've been hearing it from citizens who say it's too much too fast."

Cheh, 61, said a number of her colleagues have discussed the problem and she described the process as "having a lot of moving parts." She said anybody speeding in the District or running red lights will not get her sympathy because of the danger those actions pose to pedestrians and fellow drivers.

She acknowledges that the tickets and fines do increase revenue, in part, adding that safety should be first and foremost in any consideration of what automated ticketing is supposed to achieve.

That argument is posited by John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association's (AAA) Mid-Atlantic region, which has been one of D.C.'s harshest critics. He said he and many other D.C. residents are not opposed to fines as a way to encourage motorists to drive more safely but he said he and other critics are vehemently opposed to the way that the District is milking residents.

Townsend said in the past, city officials never bothered to address the issue before for one important reason.

"Their perception is most of these people who are getting these tickets live outside the District, so we don't have to worry about them, they can't vote us in, they can't vote us out. So it comes down to raw politics," he said. "What's different this time is that it's people inside the District who are complaining. Nobody likes $125 tickets. They'll send you a ticket, you get it three weeks later, and after seven days, it doubles."

And while it's true according to statistics compiled that the majority of those receiving tickets in the District are predominantly out-of-state drivers, so many District residents are getting hung with exorbitant tickets that they are lashing out.