New rules took effect Friday to give drivers a break when they're caught by some Washington, D.C., traffic cameras. New or upgraded cameras will now come with a two-week grace period before drivers are ticketed.
The move comes after the News4 I-Team exposed questions earlier this year about how some cameras were operating. Multiple drivers complained about a stop sign camera at the intersection of Kansas Avenue and Buchanan Street in Petworth. Many said they received tickets even after they stopped completely.
"There's a notion that with the level of these fines and the lack of fair warning that it's a moneymaker instead of a safety measure," said D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, who chairs the District's committee on transportation.
D.C.'s Department of Transportation has acknowledged a camera upgrade last summer made the technology more sensitive, but because of the lag time for tickets to be reviewed and mailed, some drivers said they racked up several tickets before they even knew they'd been caught.
The I-Team revealed the Petworth camera generated about $3.5 million worth of tickets in less than a year, prompting a site visit from Cheh. In September, she visited an additional stop sign camera leading to complaints at 37th Street and Whitehaven Parkway near the Glover Park neighborhood.
"A change in driver behavior, I actually think it's a good thing, but that has to be the objective," Cheh said. "The objective is not to make a lot of money, and it really looks like that's what we're about."
Cheh said she is not opposed to stop sign cameras in general and if they actually get drivers to stop, that makes everyone safer. But Cheh would like to see the $100 fines lowered and better signage to warn drivers about the cameras.
In a letter to Cheh, DDOT’s director said he cannot install the signs she wants warning drivers to "stop here" with an arrow pointing to the white line on the road. DDOT said that "is not recommended" in the federal manual for signage.
"If your two front wheels go over that line, it's a citation," Cheh told the I-Team. "What happens is people, even if they think it's a stop sign camera, don't know about going over that line."
DDOT did agree to issue warnings for the first two weeks of any new camera placement or upgrade to give drivers a chance to get used to it before they're ticketed.
"I'm quite happy that they made this change," said Cheh.
The new rule won't help drivers who have already been ticketed, but Cheh said it's a start. DDOT also agreed to paint additional warnings on the pavement and add standalone signage closer to the cameras.
"It doesn't help the government, I don't think, to lose confidence or for people to think that we're out there to try to steal their money and trap them with these cameras," said Cheh. "What we want is we want them to comply."
DDOT's director declined the I-Team's repeated requests for an interview but said the grace period will help drivers acclimate to the cameras' presence and prevent illegal driving. He said the extra signage and street markings should also help bolster safety at these intersections.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.