Bumpy roads ahead for traffic violators

Photo enforcement of traffic violations expands

Starting later this year, the Metropolitan Police Department will expand its already successful Automated Photo Enforcement program to use cameras to catch speeders.

The goal of the program, according to the MPD, is to reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths related to traffic violations.

Initially, MPD plans to install one camera in a fixed location and will have at least one van for each of the District's Regional Operating Commands.

The MPD is investigating the best location for the fixed camera and is "inviting the citizens to let us know if there are areas they feel are particularly plagued by speeders," said Caryle Bennett, MPD spokeswoman.

AU students are skeptical of the program.

"I don't think it will have much effect on slowing people down unless there are signs [to alert motorists to the presence of the cameras]. But, I guess it will help in that people who do get tickets will think twice before speeding again," Ethan Bassett, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences, said.

John Nahas, a junior in the Kogod School of Business, was harsher in his assessment of the APE program.

"I think it's terrible," he said.

The MPD will use the new cameras to target, as Bennett put it, the most "egregious speeders in school zones, playgrounds, places that we know there may be elderly pedestrians, places that we perceive as particularly high risk."

Some AU students have echoed concerns expressed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

"The cameras also [will be] catching people who only slightly speed," Danielle Higginbotham, a sophomore in the School of International Service, said.

"I'd be real surprised if that's the case. But speeding is speeding," Bennett responded. "This Chief is really trying to have an impact on public safety. I think it will be a lower tolerance [for speeders] to a school zone than down [Interstate] 295."

A similar program using cameras to catch motorists who run red lights began on Aug. 1, 1999 and currently has 39 cameras targeting red light runners.

Since the APE program started on August 1, 1999 "based on the preliminary numbers we've seen, city-wide, there's about a 51 percent reduction in red light running incidents," Bennett said.

The MPD reports that, through July 2000, over 133,000 violation notices had been issued and the District has collected nearly $6.1 million in fines.

Some AU students agree with Jaime Huff, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, who remains highly wary of the program.

Huff, who said that the cameras "suck," expressed concern that the APE system may ticket drivers who were in the intersection when the light changes yellow.

In response, Bennett said "by design, it's almost impossible for [the APE system] to get a person who entered the intersection on yellow."

Each camera is activated when the traffic light changes to the red signal, Bennett said. The remotes in the street are connected to the signal control box and the camera only operates if the signal has been red for a tenth of a second.

Nahas disputes that it is "almost impossible" for these systems to fail.

"If you slam your brakes at a yellow light, someone's going to hit you from behind [and push you into the intersection]," he said.

In D.C., the fine for running a red light is $75 and two points against the driver's license, officials report.

Drivers who run red lights as part of a funeral procession, while attempting to move out of the way of an emergency vehicle, or on the orders of a police officer are exempted from penalty.

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