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Local governments turning red lights into green

A red light at the intersection of Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW. Local jurisdictions have earned major funds from red light camera tickets. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

WASHINGTON — Red light cameras are pulling in big dollars for local governments in the Washington, D.C., area, according to new data from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Red light camera programs in cities like D.C. and Rockville, and Montgomery, Prince George’s and Arlington counties raked in $21 million combined in 2013, the data show.

Montgomery County, Maryland saw the biggest boost. In 2012, its 22,616 tickets pulled in $1,919,602 in ticket revenue; in 2013, that number jumped to $2,806,690 with 43,522 tickets issued — a 94 percent increase.

As of March, the county has earned $2,805,125 from 46,109 red light runners. That puts them on course to shatter last year’s total, thanks in part to 10 new cameras.

“It’s way too much,” says Michael Blau of Frederick, Maryland. “Some of these red light cameras are in bad spots [and] they’re timed the wrong way.”

“I think they’re a very good idea, just for controlling driver aggressiveness,” says Kathryn Zimmeran of Bethesda, Maryland.

Still, John Townsend has heard the complaints.

“Many drivers complain they were traveling the speed limit when the signal changed to yellow and they came to a sudden stop in the crosswalk or beyond the stop line to avoid getting a costly red-light camera ticket,” says Townsend, a spokesman with AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Ironically, Townsend says, motorists assert they wouldn’t get tickets if they enter the intersection on yellow, or if the traffic signal changes to red while they’re in the middle of the intersection.

In the end, the car owner is forced to pay up.

In D.C., the number of tickets dropped — from 91,550 in 2012 to 84,293 in 2013. Even with fewer tickets issued, the city earned more money from red light runners last year compared with 2012.

That year, D.C. pulled $13,119,310 from the citations, compared with $12,979,673 in 2012. As of March of this year, the district has already pulled in $3,761,790.

D.C. also has the highest ticket prices in the region; running a red light will get you a $150 citation. Maryland charges you $75; Virginia charges $50.

Prince George’s County actually lost money from 2012 to 2013. The county’s 23 cameras pulled in $2,813,255 in 2012 and $2,812,132 a year later.

The county is in the process of upgrading its cameras to newer models.

While most cameras look for you to block the box or cross an intersection as the light turns red, some are even more sophisticated. In Arlington County, some drivers receive tickets for making a “rolling” right turn on a red. Some cameras also look for drivers in the intersection after a green arrow turns red.

Rockville pulled in $1.7 million in 2013 with 22,667 red light camera citations.

In Arlington County, Virginia, red-light cameras brought in $322,682 in 2013 compared to $444,427 in 2012. The county has 4 cameras operating but plans to install more after receiving VDOT approval recently to do so.

Editor’s Note: This article has been modified to reflect the correct numbers for Arlington County. The revenue totals and the numbers of functioning cameras have since been updated.

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