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Speed Demons

Nov 12, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 09 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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A few issues back, The Scrapbook noted that the proliferation of traffic cameras in this country is getting out of hand. Local municipalities are increasingly turning to speed cameras as a source of revenue, and nowhere is the plague further advanced than in the nation’s capital.

A traffic camera


Last year, Washington, D.C., generated $55 million in revenue from traffic cameras. But there are more reasons than the eye-popping dollar amounts to believe that Mayor Vincent Gray—still under federal investigation for his corrupt campaign—is not being honest when he says the purpose of the cameras is to “protect people.”

The $55 million is no surprise to anyone who has received a traffic camera ticket in D.C. The fines at the moment are $75 for exceeding the speed limit at all, $125 for exceeding it by more than 10 miles per hour, and $250 should you be traveling in excess of 20 miles per hour over the limit. Public outcry is such that D.C. council member Tommy Wells convened a task force, which recently recommended dropping the fines to just $50. This, as you might imagine, is a very popular idea with constituents. 

Sensing he’s on the losing end of this argument, Gray is proposing to lower the fines more modestly to $50 and $100, down from $75 and $125. (In excess of 20 miles per hour, the fine will actually go up to $300.) But Gray is also proposing that $3.5 million of speed camera revenue be used to hire 100 more police officers. Anyone opposing Gray’s proposal will thus be disingenuously labeled as someone opposed to public safety. Not surprisingly, D.C.’s chief of police Cathy Lanier is on board with Gray’s proposal—in fact, she says with fines of $50 or less, speed cameras would be “absolutely no deterrent.” 

D.C.’s chief of police makes in excess of $250,000 a year, so we don’t expect her to appreciate the deterrent effect as perceived by the nearly one in five District of Columbia residents at or below the poverty level. By way of comparison, speed camera tickets in Montgomery County, Maryland—adjacent to Washington, D.C.—are capped at $40, and the local government there conducted a study concluding that this was an effective deterrent. Wells’s task force reached the same conclusion. The Washington City Paper’s local reporter Alan Suderman was much more to the point. “Also backing up those findings: common sense,” he wrote. 

And just so we’re crystal clear what this is really about, Gray had his budget director point out at a news conference that lowering the traffic
camera fines would leave the city budget $30 million short. Given D.C.’s perennial corruption and bloated city government, The Scrapbook figures that, with a red pen and a 10-minute wait for the Metro, any honest member of the D.C. government would have no problem filling that fiscal hole. But that’s not what this is about. Welcome to the endgame for Blue State America—monitoring your every move so as to extract as much money from you as possible.

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