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John Townsend
Public Relations Manager, DC
O: (202) 481-6820 (ext. 4462108)
C: (202) 253-2171
jtownsend@aaamidatlantic.com

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Wednesday, November 15, 2017) –– Since 2013, the District of Columbia has systematically overcharged motorists, possibly as much as millions of dollars in red-light camera tickets stemming from right turn on red (RTOR) infractions, according to a joint investigation by AAA Mid-Atlantic and WJLA/ABC 7 On Your Side.  If a driver is caught making a right turn on red by a red-light camera, the city has routinely issued a $150 photo-enforced citation. However, those automated red-light enforcement tickets are 200 percent higher than the mandated $50 ticket the driver would have received from a police officer meting out tickets for the similar RTOR infraction, reveals AAA Mid-Atlantic. The District has consistently used a loophole to overcharge motorists, critics say.

 

All red-light camera tickets are not the same. Yet under the DC StreetSafe regimen, drivers making right turns on red are invariably charged the same hefty fines and fees as flagrant and unsafe drivers blowing straight through an intersection after the traffic signal turns red.  In all likelihood, it is costing drivers untold millions in ticket overcharges. Here is the rub. Under District rules, the cost of automated enforcement traffic infractions is exactly the same amount as tickets for similar tickets handwritten or handed down by a police officer during a traffic stop, including right turn on red citations.

 

District law makes that clear. Moreover, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) states on its red light camera enforcement website: “The fines for traffic violations captured by automated photo enforcement are exactly the same as the fines for violations issued by a police officer.” Yet it seems the MPD is violating its own policy.  On top of that, as required by law, the tickets are reviewed and approved by the Metropolitan Police Department before they are issued.   

 

Yet drivers are charged twice as much than the law allows for right turn on red (RTOR) tickets generated by red-light cameras perched above 47 intersection sites in the city. That is the routine outcome that drivers face, although the District Council lowered the fines for rolling stops at intersections in 2012, and the city government promulgated the changes in its ironclad D.C. Municipal Regulations the following year in 2013, reveals AAA Mid-Atlantic. It is a multi-million difference, and the big loser is the unsuspecting driver who pays the fine amount printed on the red-light camera ticket notice of infraction.

 

“Such tickets should not be this expensive as mandated by Council fiat, by District law, and by Metropolitan Police Department’s stated policy. Yet it seems the District government is habitually violating the letter of the law, as well as the spirit of the law by overcharging motorists, our investigation found,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “For years the District has systematically violated its own polity and policies by slapping drivers with excessive fines for certain right turn on red (RTOR) tickets, as some ticketed motorists have rightly long suspected. But the District is not above its own law.”

Concerned they were fined $100 in excess of the mandated fine for right turn on red violations, some aggrieved drivers say the District government is knowingly taking advantage of them through expensive ticket technicalities that are mailed millions of times per year to the owners of the registered vehicles. In the interest of due process, AAA Mid-Atlantic is calling upon the District to make restitution to wronged motorists and to make them whole by refunding any and all traffic ticket overcharges, which could amount to millions of dollars in unwarranted fines for right turn on red infractions captured by the motion-activated camera system.  

 

Under District law [§ 2103.7], the current fine for failing to come to a complete stop before turning is just $50, and so is the fine for violating a “No Turn on Red” sign [§ 4013]. However, there is a proposal on the table to increase both fines to $100 under the revised Vision Zero proposed rulemaking. Yet if the fines were increased to twice as much, it would still be less than the current photo-enforced ticket for a right turn on red. Even if  you give the city the benefit of the doubt, it seems its ticket reviewers, ticket processors, and traffic adjudication officers are woefully or willfully unaware of the fine amounts set forth in the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations 18-2600. It is simply inexcusable.

 

Fewer drivers noticed or complained about the discrepancy when the fine for right turn violations was halved from $100 to $50 in the “Safety-Based Traffic Enforcement Amendment Act of 2012,” sponsored by Council Members Cheh, Wells and Berry. The year following, 2013, Mayor Gray followed the District Council’s lead by doubling the fine for running a red light from $75 to $150. Since then, drivers who were issued photo-red tickets for a rolling right turn on red have been routinely charged $150, not $50, the fine enacted by the Council. They faced the same fine imposed on drivers blowing straight through a red signal. The District government has some explaining to do, motorists say.

 

           

Red Light Camera Citations Issued and Red- Light Camera Revenue FY2007-2017

           

Red-Light Camera Citations

           

Red-Light Camera Ticket Fines Paid

           

Fiscal Year 2007

           

45,798

           

$4,250,382

           

Fiscal Year 2008

           

65,250

           

$6,009,071

           

Fiscal Year 2009

           

81,937

           

$7,153,622

           

Fiscal Year 2010

           

74,342

           

$7,802,022

           

Fiscal Year 2011

           

81,680

           

$7,886,875

           

Fiscal Year 2012

           

96,223

           

$12,979,637

           

Fiscal Year 2013

           

84,300

           

$13,119,310

           

Fiscal Year 2014

           

71,739

           

$11,887,991

           

Fiscal Year 2015

           

65,648

           

$10,524,325

           

Fiscal Year 2016

           

92,886

           

$11,536,566

           

Fiscal Year 2017 (Feb. 28, 2017)

           

42,077

           

$3,464,106

           

Total

           

801,880

           

$96,613,907

 

 

Since the law was changed, drivers have been on the receiving end of 356,650 red-light cameras, including 92,886 such citations in Fiscal Year 2016, tabulates AAA Mid-Atlantic. Although the District refuses to disclose the number or percentage of those tickets triggered by RTOR infractions, the face value of the red-light citations over the past years was $50,532,298, including $11.5 million in red-light camera tickets during FY16, calculates AAA Mid-Atlantic. However, since Fiscal Year 2007, the District has issued 801,880 red-light camera tickets and garnered $96,613,907 in photo-red revenue. Although the current photo-red citation is $150 in the District, it is $75 in Maryland and only $50 in Virginia.

 

Are refunds in the offing? That’s unlikely to happen any time soon unless a blowback by motorists materializes. Some motorists fear the ticket overcharges have cost them untold millions. The District issued 27,238 more red-light camera tickets in Fiscal Year 2016 than in FY 2015. It’s a 41.4 percent increase and the highest output in four years. Photo-red ticket revenue increased 9.6 percent from $10,524,325 to $11,536,566.

For its part, the District has declined to provide RTOR ticket data for nearly 50 locations   to AAA Mid-Atlantic, despite repeated requests for a breakdown of the nature of red-light camera tickets at intersections.  But ticketed motorists claim, and AAA Mid-Atlantic suspects, that instead of vindicating drivers who failed to come to a complete stop before turning right at the intersection on red, the photographic evidence is being used to overcharge motorists for technical violations.

 

Depending upon the given intersection, it appears the vast majority of photo-red tickets, generated in the District are issued to drivers making right turns on red, instead of to flagrant red-light runners caught red handed crossing straight through intersections while the light is red for 0.4 seconds. The ticket overcharges arouses and renews deep-seated suspicions the District’s automated enforcement program is more concerned about boosting revenue for the city’s coffers than in making intersections and roads safer.

 

If drivers suspect they were subject to improper photo-red tickets and fines, they should contact the Metropolitan Police Department (MPDC), which issued the ticket and the District Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which is responsible for processing and adjudicating tickets, AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends.  The District implemented its automated red-light camera enforcement program 18 years ago in 1999. RTOR fines were lowered citywide five years ago.

 

Here is the historic context. In 2012, the District Council passed legislation doubling the cost of red-light camera tickets from $75 to $150, the highest fee for such tickets in the Washington metro area, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic.  In the same piece of legislation, the Council also halved the cost of right turn on red violations from $100 to $50, explains AAA Mid-Atlantic. The law went into effect in 2013 and since then drivers caught making a RTOR on the District’s red-light camera network were routinely fined $150 and not $50, as the law dictates and the District’s own regulations decree, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic.

 

The law lays it down. Under DC Municipal Regulations (Rule: 18-2600) the civil fines for motor vehicle moving infractions are the same whether the violations are captured by automated photo enforcement or by a police officer. Since the inception of the program, the city contends it uses red-light enforcement technology “to enforce the law fairly and consistently, with the goal of reducing violations, preventing crashes and injuries, and saving lives.”

 

When it comes to RTOR violations captured on red-light cameras, some ticketed drivers are openly questioning whether the law is being enforced “fairly and consistently,” notes AAA Mid-Atlantic. It all rings hollow, some motorists say. Their concerns sparked AAA’s investigation into ticketing practices in the District. 

 

 

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