Drivers pay less to DC for red-light camera tickets after tweak, but no refunds planned

D.C. changed parts of its red-light camera policy in 2017 after it was pointed out many drivers were being overcharged, and though drivers are paying less for red-light violations, there’s no sign the city plans to refund drivers.

After six years in a row of red-light ticket fine revenue topping $10 million in the District, an investigation by AAA Mid-Atlantic and WJLA revealed that drivers receiving red-light camera tickets were being charged $150, while the violation would have cost $50 if an officer had written the ticket.

Under D.C. law, traffic fines are supposed to be the same “whether your traffic violation is captured by a photo enforcement camera or you’re pulled over” by a police officer.

The District changed its ticket review process for Right Turn on Red — or coasting through a red light — and No Turn on Red Violations in 2017.

Now, tickets issued by a red-light camera are reviewed by police to determine whether the ticket should be for failing to completely stop, or turning right at a light where the maneuver is not allowed.

In a news release, AAA said the number of red-light camera tickets has dropped 54.4% between fiscal year 2017 and 2018. After ticket fines totaled more than $12 million in 2017, the amount dropped to $5.7 million in 2018.

For the first three months of 2019, D.C. has collected more than $3 million in fines.

AAA said the change in policy has spared drivers $2.2 million they would have paid before the 2017 tweak.

“Adding insult to injury, even after getting caught red-handed, the city is steadfastly refusing to issue millions of dollars in refunds to motorists it wrongly fined,” said John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs.

Townsend quoted D.C. police: “Tickets issued before this review was put in place are still considered valid.”

Here’s what D.C.’s Department of Motor Vehicles Director Gabriel Robinson had to say in an emailed statement later Tuesday:

Based on the DC DMV’s long-established adjudication process, all motorists have an opportunity to contest any aspect of a moving violation by submitting a written explanation, including any documentation or evidence that supports their request within the allowable timeline. However, once a fine or penalty has been paid, this is equivalent to an admission of guilt and no other legal remedies exist to contest a violation and/or receive a refund. Additionally, at the time the tickets in question were issued, the fine amounts charged were not in error.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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