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Speed cameras { September 22 2002 }

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EDITORIAL September 22, 2002

Whoa, Big Brother

The speed camera "experiment" begun a few months ago could be about to expand into a city-wide grid of cameras and a flurry of tickets for D.C. motorists. The Washington Times has learned that the city has the option of modifying the contract it originally signed with Lockheed Martin IMS, the supplier of the photo-radar units, to erect a much more comprehensive "Automated Traffic Enforcement Program" that would make it possible to ticket literally millions of motorists every year, at almost any time and place in the city.
Under the terms of the contract tendered by Lockheed Martin IMS to William M. Cartis of the Metropolitan Police Department, "speed on green" photo-radar units that track the rate of travel of automobiles as they pass through intersections could be set up all over downtown. According to the language of the contract, "photo radar and speed on green units will target all vehicles traveling above the posted speed limit." This represents an order of magnitude increase beyond the initial, small-scale use of photo radar that involved one "fixed" unit, and five mobile units installed in city police vehicles that could be set up at various points around town.
How much is all this worth to the city? According to estimates provided by Lockheed Martin IMS, the District could mulct motorists to the tune of $10,988,588 annually after it pays off the private contractor, who gets a big chunk of each $29 ticket issued by the photo-radar and speed-on-green units. Lockheed Martin IMS stated in the original contract with the city that it "anticipated over 80,000 payments per month."
Never before has the use of speed traps to generate revenue for municipal government been so flagrant. And the unabashed cashing-in by the private contractor helpfully setting all this up is something to behold.
The old nag trotted out by photo radar advocates that "speed kills" is a non-sequitor that intelligent people ought to dismiss out-of-hand. The proper questions ought to be: What speeds are reasonable and how should they be enforced? Dangerous speeding is one thing. Mercilessly prosecuting motorists for driving faster than an arbitrary and often under-posted limit (the maximum lawful limit within the District is just 25 mph on almost all streets) is nothing more than a tax by another name. Using cameras to maximize the revenue stream in this manner and for the partial benefit, don't forget, of a private contractor establishes a new level of effrontery that will be hard to top.

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