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Friday Question of the Day – Is Lowering Fines for Automated Traffic Enforcement a Good Idea? Realistic?

by Prince Of Petworth July 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm 98 Comments

Back in July 2010 a reader wrote:

Speed camera fines have gone through the roof. I knew they had gone up but wasn’t aware as to exactly how much until I got a lovely new one in the mail. 1-10 mph over the speed limit: increase from $30 to $75. 11-15 mph: increase from $50 to $125 (that’s 150%!!! insane!). I’m not sure what the original fines were for higher speeds but those are very very steep now too: 16-20 mph is $150, 21-25 mph is $200, and 26-30 mph is $250. Just though everyone would like to be aware of the massive increases for minor speeding.

Since then, it seems, we hear about the deployment of more traffic/speed cameras around the city every few months.

Council Member Tommy Wells has created a Task Force to Study Lower Fines for Automated Traffic Enforcement:

Councilmember Tommy Wells announced today that he has formed a task force to study safety-focused changes in automated traffic enforcement that can lead to lower fines.

“The goal is to make sure the automated enforcement program is about safety, not just revenue,” stated Wells.

For years, the District has attempted to discourage hazardous driving by charging high fines. Drivers may have a low chance of getting caught for dangerous behavior like speeding, running red lights, or violating other’s right-of-way — but when they do get caught, the penalty is significant. The high fines are particularly harsh for low-income drivers who don’t have the discretionary budget to pay traffic infractions.

Wells added, “Some fines have increased by 250 and 500 percent over the past four years. The goal of assuring safety has been eclipsed by the government’s dependence upon the revenue generated by high fines. With the use of cameras, assuring stricter enforcement of our traffic laws, the need for high fines should be revisited.”

New plans for automated enforcement (e.g., speed cameras, red light cameras, and other new technology) mean that drivers are more likely to be caught when breaking traffic laws. Better enforcement opens the opportunity for a new strategy — lower fines with consistent enforcement.

Councilmember Wells has invited Councilmember Mary M. Cheh to co-chair the task force, and will ask the group to examine fines, automated enforcement plans, and crash data. He expects some possible recommendations will include:

• immediate adjustments to certain automated enforcement fines,
• fine reductions to be implemented once there are a certain number of automated cameras (i.e., enough to achieve consistent enforcement),
• dedication of fine revenues to road safety activities,
• graduated fines, or
• other changes to ensure that the automated enforcement program is focused on safety.

Do you think lowering fines is a good idea or just politics? If a good idea, given how much revenue it raises for the city, do you think they can realistically be lowered?

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