DC police say their speed and red light cameras that are distributed around the city are working to help decrease traffic fatalities. In the last 10 years, they say that auto accident related deaths have dropped 56% from 72 in 2001 to 32 in 2011. The cameras are working so well that they’ll be adding another 134 cameras throughout the District next year. While traffic fines may dip a little, the District will easily make up for that loss with the addition of these new cameras.
City officials point to those “raw” fatality numbers to show how effective the cameras have been at promoting safety, but what those numbers don’t tell us is who the victims are. Even if a person is driving the speed limit, he can still hit and kill a pedestrian, and that would be counted as a traffic fatality.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, half of DC traffic fatalities in 2010 were pedestrians, the highest in the nation by percentage. The Washington Post reported:
“The report on 2010 fatalities by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that for the first time in five years, the number of pedestrians who died in traffic increased, even as the overall number of traffic fatalities continued to decline.”
So, theoretically, people could be going the speed limit, not running red lights and driving “safely” according to traffic cameras and still strike and kill a pedestrian or a cyclist. While officials blame this increase of pedestrian deaths on “distracted driving,” that’s not always the case. It’s not always the driver’s fault. The point is that while there appears to be a decline in overall traffic fatalities, there also appears to be an increase in pedestrian deaths.
DC officials insist that the cameras have nothing to do with making money, even though the program pulled in a record $85 million last fiscal year and has so far pulled in more in the current fiscal year than at this point last year. Their number one money-maker is a speed camera on DC-295, a stretch of road which looks like an interstate to unsuspecting drivers who continue at a comfortable 60 to 65 mph, not realizing that the speed limit dropped to 45 or 50 mph. And where are the cameras placed? Of course, right after the speed limit drop. AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs made this observation:
“In a cruel irony, DC 295 may have the look and the feel of an interstate highway or a U.S. route. But, as a matter of fact, it is the only numbered route in the District that isn’t. And drivers who aren’t aware of this are paying a high price for that…It’s such a part and parcel of the city budgetary scheme and regime now that they probably can’t live with out it. They’re addicted to this revenue. You’re talking about almost 200 million dollars a year.”
Police say that if people don’t like getting these pricey tickets, then they should obey the law. But what if people started obeying the DC speed laws perfectly? Since District officials are dependent on this revenue, they’d have to keep lowering the speed limit in order to maintain their income. Does this scheme really sound lawful to anyone?