Safety for Profit

Traffic light cameras questioned


Many spy-cam critics have charged that traffic light cameras are geared toward ticket revenue more than safety. Now the leader of Washington, D.C., has admitted as much.

"The cameras are about safety and revenue," Mayor Anthony Williams told a local radio station last fall, explaining that the city was likely to finish the year with a $323 million deficit and needed to get creative. That apparently means expanding its camera program, which reeled in an impressive $18.4 million during its first year in operation.

The mayor's comments, as well as a particularly sneaky camera, have prompted the mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Automobile Association to withdraw support for the city's traffic cameras. "We are against using law enforcement for revenue making," says AAA spokesman Lon Anderson, "and we caught the city red-handed."

Anderson is referring to a camera placed at a flashing yellow light at a parking lot exit from Union Station, D.C.'s train depot. The light turns immediately from flashing yellow to red, and the camera there earned the city $1.5 million by catching 20,000 drivers. Anderson also has anecdotal evidence suggesting fender-benders at that light increased after the camera was installed.

After Anderson held a curbside press conference to denounce the Union Station camera, it was removed. But none of the $75 fines was refunded.

"We call that 21st century highway robbery," he says. "Jurisdictions that put these in have to do more than pay lip service to traffic safety."