Fewer speeders caught

By Tarron Lively
September 17, 2006

The District's automated speed-camera program caught an all-time low monthly percentage of speeding motorists last month, the third time this year a record percentage was reported.
Just 1.7 percent of the 2.3 million vehicles monitored in the District were caught speeding in August -- the lowest monthly percentage since the speed cameras were introduced in July 2001, according to police statistics. By comparison, 30.9 percent of monitored vehicles were caught speeding during the program's inaugural month.
Chief Charles H. Ramsey of the Metropolitan Police Department has cited the decreasing number of speeders as reason to expand the program, which began with six cruisers outfitted with cameras. There are now 12 camera-equipped vehicles rotating through nearly 80 enforcement zones and 10 cameras at fixed locations.
"I think [the record percentage] demonstrates how technology, when used appropriately, can have a positive impact on public safety," he said yesterday. "It shows that people can slow down, and that saves lives."
The monthly percentage of motorists caught speeding has decreased steadily since the cameras were implemented. The previous low, 1.9 percent, was set in June, the first time the monthly percentage was less than 2 percent.
Police and other city officials have long defended automated traffic enforcement as strictly a tool for making city streets and roads safer.
The number of traffic fatalities has fluctuated since the speed cameras were implemented in 2001. There were 49 deaths last year, compared with 71 in 2001. So far this year, there have been 30 traffic deaths, compared with 35 at this time last year.
However, police have no statistics showing a correlation between the automated-enforcement program and a reduction in traffic deaths or crashes.
Many city officials and residents have praised the program, but critics contend that decisions about the cameras are influenced by revenue. The city collected $2.6 million in fines generated by the speed-cameras last month -- increasing the program's total revenue to more than $116 million since they were first deployed.
The annual amount of collected revenue has increased steadily since 2001, culminating last year with a record total of $28.9 million. The city's 49 red-light cameras have generated more than $38 million since their inception in August 1999, including $5.2 million last year. The collected revenue from automated traffic enforcement is deposited in the city's general fund.
Fines for speeding can cost as much as $200. The fine for running a red light is $75. No photo-enforced violation in the District carries points.
In November, automobile-owner group AAA designated the District as a "strict enforcement area" -- the first time in the organization's 106-year history that an entire city received the label.