D.C. Transportation Director: Continuing Camera Ticketing During Pandemic Reduces Accidents so Hospitals Can ‘Focus’ on Coronavirus

This Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 file photo shows a pair of traffic cameras aimed on Vine Street, in Elmwood Place, Ohio. People suing the Cincinnati-area village over speeding tickets generated by a camera system want a judge to rule in their favor without trial, filing a motion for summary judgement …
AP Photo/Al Behrman

Some state and local governments are temporarily suspending policies that might hurt essential workers or jobless Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, but in the nation’s capitol the camera ticketing program continues unabated, and an official with the District of Columbia told Breitbart News it is to protect public safety and help hospitals.

“The District government is continuing to operate the speed camera program during the public health emergency to help curtail dangerous driving behavior,” Jeff Marootian, director of the District Department of Transportation, told Breitbart News in a statement. “Fewer cars on the road has reduced traffic crashes and injuries. However, there has been an increase in speeding citations as well as an increase in the percentage of crashes in which speed was a factor.”

“Safe driving and preventing serious injuries from crashes is an important part of supporting our hospitals’ ability to focus on addressing the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” Marootian said.

According to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine’s dashboard, to date there have been 2,350 cases of coronavirus in the District and 81 people have died. 

The population of D.C. is 705,749, according to the United States Census.

Breitbart News asked the Department of Transportation if the District considered suspending the camera ticket program during the coronavirus outbreak and the agency responded with Marootian’s statement.

AAA Mid-Atlantic regularly reports on the District’s ticketing policies and called them “predatory” in its latest report.

“I don’t know another local jurisdiction in the entire nation that has generated as much money from traffic tickets, parking tickets and moving violations,” John Townsend, public relations manager of AAA Mid-Atlantic said in a District ABC affiliate article on the report. “That tells us that things are out of control and out of hand in the District of Columbia.

“It is predatory ticketing,” Townsend said. “That’s precisely what it is. And I defy the District to say otherwise.”

WJLA/ABC7 reported on the travel group’s findings:

D.C. has long been considered one of the most onerous places in the country for traffic fines, seeing a steady climb year to year in tickets issued and revenue generated. But recently the District broke into stunning new territory, issuing more than $1 billion in tickets in just three years.

Nearly three million motorists were on the receiving end of traffic and parking citations last year, totaling $375 million.

Townsend closely monitors the District’s ticketing behavior. He says this is a money-making operation that can’t prove these high fines have made anyone safer. In fact, he says they haven’t found any evidence that shows the amount of the fine modifies a motorist’s behavior.

“We’ve looked high and low,” Townsend said. “We looked across the globe and we have not found one major study that proves there is a link between the amount of the fine and compliance.”

The District told WJLA/ABC 7 that it hasn’t done any studies on these issues.

Another study cited by the media outlet compared the nation’s 25 largest metro areas, and D.C. had the highest traffic fines per capita at $170 per person. The next closest, Chicago, was $101.

In fact, Chicago is lifting its trafficking policies during the pandemic, according to the website Illinois Policy:

The city of Chicago has temporarily relaxed its controversial ticketing and towing scheme, as residents face worsening financial uncertainty in the midst of a global public health crisis.

Chicago is also home to the nation’s highest count of red-light camera devices. Unsurprisingly, it is also ground zero for corruption indictments involving red-light cameras, which have become a focal point of a sprawling federal corruption probe that has seen a string of indictments across local governments and at the Statehouse.

Multiple studies have since contradicted the purported safety benefits of red-light cameras. Nevertheless, an Illinois Policy Institute analysis last year found that red-light cameras have taken over $1 billion from Illinois drivers statewide. As Chicago has reduced its number of cameras, they have spread to the suburbs along with the associated corruption.

And in yet another study — this one reported by Washington Informer in 2018 — showed that D.C. ticketing policies hurt the most vulnerable even in the best of times:

Black neighborhoods are hit hardest by automated traffic enforcement in D.C., according to a recent D.C. Policy Center report.

The analysis conducted by William Farrell, a transportation engineer, used census data to quantify segregation in the city and then analyzed the number of traffic violations and compared it to the number of reported traffic collisions with each area to check the relative issuance of citations across various tracts.

Farrell found that drivers in predominately Black neighborhoods received more moving violations and higher fines though Black and white neighborhoods had similar number of car crashes.

In Black-majority neighborhoods, drivers received double the average number of moving violations per capita, while driver in White segregated neighborhoods receive just one eight of the average, meaning a driver in a Black neighborhood is over 17 times more likely to receive a traffic violation, at the cost of 16 times more per resident, than in a white neighborhood.

Farrell said:

My analysis of moving violations citations and crash data suggests that the racial geography of D.C. does play into in the enforcement of traffic violations: census tracts with higher proportions of black residents are associated with a higher incidence of traffic fines, despite not experiencing a greater number of crashes.

And one couple who live in D.C. are so upset about the ticketing program that they filed a federal class action lawsuit in March.

The local NPR station, WAMU, reported on a couple, Teresa and Reginald Matthews, who claim the ticking policy is unlawful and unconstitutional:

The camera is located in the southbound lanes just off of Pennsylvania Avenue SE. According to the lawsuit, Teresa Matthews was driving 52 mph along 295 last November, just over the 50-mph speed limit. But along the stretch where the camera is placed, a small sign declared it a work zone, dropping the speed limit to 40 mph. That means the $100 ticket she otherwise would have gotten for speeding more than 10 mph above the posted speed limit doubled to $200. Much the same happened to Reginald Matthews that same month.

The lawsuit accuses D.C. of unjust enrichment and says the camera violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protection against excessive fines and 14th Amendment protection of due process. And Lietz is asking a judge to allow it to move forward as a class action lawsuit, representing almost any driver who got a speeding ticket from the camera since the work zone sign was installed. He’s asking for damages that would be determined after a trial.

David Lietz, one of the attorneys representing the Matthews, said in the WAMU report:

This tends to indicate that this speed camera is all about revenue generation, and isn’t at all about public safety. If you really wanted people to know to slow down because there was an actual work zone, you would get lights up around the work zone, and you’d have more signs and cones and barrels and all of the things that we would normally think would be attendant with a well and properly marked work zone. In this case, none of that was present.

Our clients have put themselves out there to be willing to act not only on their own behalf, but they also want to act on behalf of all the other persons who were injured in the same way by getting impermissible double fines.

The city was supposed to respond to the lawsuit by April 6.

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