D.C. takes in $179 million each year from traffic citations, many of which come from the 87 automated speed cameras now dotted around the District. But a new report by the D.C. inspector general says the cameras issue tickets for violations a driver may not have committed. A car might not be clearly identified in a photo, or the registration may not match the car’s make and model. We explore what it means for drivers and the city.


  • Martin Di Caro Transportation Reporter, WAMU


  • 12:06:39

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Navy Yard shootings, one year later, a look at what it's meant for security clearances and workplace safety.

  • 12:07:01

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, traffic citations bring $179 million a year into the District of Columbia's coffers and many of them are the result of photos snapped by the 87 automated speed cameras, now dotted around the city. A new report by the D.C. Inspector General had some sharp criticism around how those speeding tickets are issued.

  • 12:07:22

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt notes that drivers get ticketed even when a car can't be definitely identified and it quotes a senior official who says that, "Drivers are guilty until proven innocent." Joining us to discuss this new report is Martin Di Caro, he is WAMU 88.5's transportation reporter. Martin, good to see you again.

  • 12:07:40

    MR. MARTIN DI CAROYou too, Kojo. Nice to be here overlooking Connecticut Ave., is that your car outside illegally parked, okay?

  • 12:07:46

    NNAMDINo, that would be my car that is not speeding through the light but getting a ticket anyway. 800-433-8850 is the number to call, what do you think of the Inspector General's report, finding that D.C.'s automated speed cameras may lead to erroneous ticketing, 800-433-8850? Is this an, I told you so, moment for you? You can also send email to kojo@wamu.org or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Martin, a Washington Post article described traffic ticketing in D.C. as the Wild West. So what does this Inspector General's report say?

  • 12:08:19

    CAROWell, it raises fundamental questions about fairness and due process. Of course, those are not new to our legal system in general but here with speed cameras in D.C., which have been used for a long time and should be noted with some success, the Metropolitan Police Department and others have said, they work, I have data here from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. Again, a little bit when we broaden the discussion to have some context here, showing that speed cameras do slow people down.

  • 12:09:22

    CAROHowever, they should only be given out to the people who are doing the violating. And, you know, I started off our conversation by trying to introduce a little levity, no one is laughing when you look at these fine totals. Red light running is $150, speeding 11 to 15 miles an hour over the limit, according to the DC.gov, $100, 16 miles an hour over the limit, $150. Overtaking a vehicle stopped at a crosswalk for a pedestrian, $250. So, for a lot of people, it's a day's pay being walked out by something that they didn't do. And then, when they try to appeal, the average appeal time, 157 days, it's not fair.

  • 12:09:27

    NNAMDIAnd even though Police Chief Cathy Lanier says, and others do say as you point out, that they work to the extent that they cause people not to drive as quickly as they do. The fact of the matter is that a lot of people who get tickets, including a few people I know, including yours truly, feel that those violations did not occur at that time but because of the length of time it takes to get the appeal process done, go ahead and pay for those tickets anyway.

  • 12:09:54

    NNAMDIThe city has always said that this is not about the money but how can we ignore the fact that it makes $179 million, if we find out that a lot of the reviewing of these tickets is done fairly carelessly.

  • 12:10:06

    CAROWell, we can't ignore that. Of course, it's about revenue and safety, both. If it were only about safety, they wouldn't be charging people money for these. Of course, that does act as part of the deterrent, we can't overlook that. But as Phil Mendelson said, the Chairman of the D.C. Counsel, "We're getting $180 million in tickets, so if we end up tossing out three million in tickets, which wounds like a lot, it's really not." Meaning, we need to get this right. And to your point, yes, no one can deny that there is some positive effect of getting people to drive slower and that many of these tickets, 2.8 million, when we talk about red lights, speeding and parking, many of those tickets, of course, are legit.

  • 12:10:43

    CAROBut people who don't break the law, should not be getting tickets and when the reporting on this has happened, over the last couple of days, or finding out, you know, how these tickets are being erroneously handed out, and that's driving people crazy. I mean -- go ahead.

  • 12:10:57

    NNAMDII was just going to talk about some of the specific issues raised in the report. The report says, reviewers were often inconsistent and arbitrary in deciding who gets tickets, multiple vehicles may be caught by a camera and there's a lack of precision as to which vehicle was speeding. And apparently in that situation, rather than saying there is uncertainty here, let's pass on this one, they'll say, let's just pick a car and give it to that car.

  • 12:11:19

    CAROYeah, that's one instance right, two or three cars all pass a camera at the same time, we've all been there, right?

  • 12:11:24


  • 12:11:24

    CAROWe're passing a speed camera, we see the light go off and you say, well I wasn't speeding, I hope they're not gonna give that one to me because somebody else just blew by me. Also, there's something that's called, Make, Model, Mismatch, right.

  • 12:11:36


  • 12:11:36

    CAROSo the photograph gets your car. You know, you've gotten these tickets in the mail, you see the picture of your car and they go by the license plate, the license plate is supposed to match the make and model of your car with the record in the DMV. And when it doesn't match, there's a mismatch there, now the person reviewing the ticket is supposed to make a judgment call and oftentimes, they do approve these, on the argument that the tags were switched.

  • 12:12:04

    CARONow, if the license -- but a lot of times, a license plate is misread or it's not clear, so now the Metropolitan Police Department is going to require a review when the make and model does not match the registration with the DMV and that is an announcement that's just come out in the last day, in response to this Inspector General's report. So it sounds like they're conceding, something has to be done about this.

  • 12:12:26

    NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Martin Di Caro, he is WAMU 88.5's transportation reporter about a recent report by the District of Columbia's Inspector General, talking about the careless, sometimes haphazard manner in which parking and speeding tickets are reviewed in the District of Columbia. If you have questions or comments, call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to kojo@wamu.org. You can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow.

  • 12:12:53

    NNAMDIMartin, something a lot of people may not realize, parking meter tickets are supposed to include photographic evidence also, often they don't. But the tickets are issued anyway. The Inspector General's report says, no, don't do that anymore. (unintelligible) recommends dismissing tickets without such evidence.

  • 12:13:08

    CAROAnd how you -- yeah, how you supposed to fight the ticket if there's no -- if they don't provide your with the evidence they're charging you with?

  • 12:13:17

    NNAMDIIt's your word against the employee of the Department of Transportation.

  • 12:13:22

    CAROAnd there's another issue there too. I mean, there's multiple agencies in charge of all of this. You have DDOT, which establishes...

  • 12:13:27


  • 12:13:27

    CARO...the signs and the Department of Public Works...

  • 12:13:30

    NNAMDIYes. Tickets itself, correct.

  • 12:13:30

    CARO...issues the tickets. There's a grey area here, what if the meter is not working? Well, the Inspector General decided, there's not clear if you can park at a meter that's not working. And sometimes you get a ticket, sometimes you don't.

  • 12:13:44

    NNAMDIThe report compared the District's practices with other jurisdictions, what did it find?

  • 12:13:50

    CAROKojo, can I pass on that question?

  • 12:13:54

    NNAMDIOh, okay.

  • 12:13:54

    CAROI, you know, I don't have a -- I don't want to give you a haphazard answer on there but I can tell you what the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety has said, comparing D.C. to other cities that have had speed cameras.

  • 12:14:07


  • 12:14:07

    CAROI'm gonna go there. Okay. And...

  • 12:14:09

    NNAMDIGo there.

  • 12:14:09

    CARO...I'll get back to you on that. All right, so, you know, just the context here about the speed camera issue 'cause a lot of people have complained about them, where they're placed, are they about revenue, are they about safety? The Insurance Institute did studies about Maryland, Arizona and the District of Columbia and found that the proportion of drivers expending -- exceeding speed limits by more than 10 miles an hour declined by 70, 88 and 82 percent, respectively, after the cameras were introduced. And there are a slew of other studies that have been done around the country, including in Arlington, Va., that show a red light and speed cameras work.

  • 12:14:46

    NNAMDIIt's my understanding that in other jurisdictions, there are limits on the number of cameras that may be installed, that does not, apparently, apply in the District of Columbia. Private...

  • 12:14:59

    CAROYes, that's correct.

  • 12:15:00

    NNAMDIPrivacy is one issue a lot of other jurisdictions seem to have addressed but not in the District, for example, can images or videos be requested in a criminal investigation or by insurance companies? I suspect we'll be hearing from the D.C. Council and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on this in the coming weeks and months.

  • 12:15:20

    CAROYeah and thank you for jogging my memory, I didn't mean to get stumped before but, yes, you're correct.

  • 12:15:23

    NNAMDIYou're never stumped, Martin.

  • 12:15:24

    CAROYes, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh is the chair of the council's committee on transportations, going to heal the hearing, late this month. On the report, and it's recommendation, she is raising issues about this, so is Chairman Phil Mendelson and, of course, fundamentally, it is about fairness, not only in who's getting the tickets but about your ability to appeal these. Why should it take a mean of average of 157 days, which is actually an increase from the previous year of 135 days, to have your hearing. And if the examiner's decision is appealed, even further, the entire process could take up to 22 months. Who wants to deal with that? No one...

  • 12:16:06

    NNAMDIThe money quote in this report, and pun intended, is a senior District official who was quoted anonymously as saying, "One of the beauties of parking is that drivers are guilty until proven innocent. It's like the Internal Revenue Service," he is quoted, as saying. That's amazing.

  • 12:16:24

    CAROThat is one of the alleged benefits, so to speak, of having cameras out there, right. There's -- it takes -- it's supposed to take away human error, but it doesn't, right, because if, as we mentioned, two cars...

  • 12:16:35

    NNAMDIHumans reviewing them, yes.

  • 12:16:36

    CAROYes, humans are reviewing them. So that is why that quote touched such a nerve this week.

  • 12:16:44

    NNAMDIEspecially when it's described as one of the beauties of parking. Here is Daniel in Arlington, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:16:51

    DANIELHi, Kojo, how are you today?

  • 12:16:52

    NNAMDII'm well. Well, not so good about this parking stuff and speeding stuff but go ahead.

  • 12:16:56

    DANIELYeah, I'm in the same boat on that. So you might get a kick out of this, I was gonna say, don't forget the parking tickets 'cause I've actually, in two years of working in Washington, D.C., from Virginia, I've received 36 different tickets, six of which were from speeding cameras, which were never more than five miles over the limit, of course. But that didn't stop them. So the other 30 were all from parking infractions, many of which times, I was able successfully to fight them because what had happened was, if you go throughout D.C., obviously, you can use the park mobile app.

  • 12:17:28

    DANIELAnd what you basically find, is many of the meter maids will actually not bother to check whether or not you're parked through the app and will simply issue you a ticket regardless. (unintelligible) .

  • 12:17:39

    NNAMDIOh, I use the app all the time, thankfully that's not happened to me yet. But go ahead.

  • 12:17:43

    DANIELOh, it will, I promise. Now that you...

  • 12:17:46

    NNAMDIOh, come on.

  • 12:17:47

    DANIELSorry, thought I'd...

  • 12:17:49

    CAROJinxed him.

  • 12:17:50

    NNAMDIYou're right.

  • 12:17:50

    DANIEL(unintelligible) my favorite incident though was that I was given -- I'm a Virginia resident and I had received tickets sent to my Arlington address, prior to receiving a ticket stating that I was working in Eastern Market at the time, that had routinely parked on 8th Street in the meters. And I received a ticket saying that I had to, for $120, prove my residency of a place other then Washington, D.C., as it was being assumed that I was a resident without tags.

  • 12:18:20

    DANIELWhich is, I think, the perfect -- the quintessential incidence of guilty until proven innocent. I was -- I had tags for Arlington, I was registered out of Virginia, my license and home address are all there and D.C. insisted that I was actually a resident posing as a Virginian. I've gone -- I must've gone through a lot of effort to do that.

  • 12:18:39

    NNAMDIThey must've seen your car around Eastern Market a lot and assumed that you probably lived in that neighborhood.

  • 12:18:44

    CAROSo did you fight this ticket? How long did it take?

  • 12:18:46

    NNAMDIGood question.

  • 12:18:47

    DANIELI did fight it. I managed to win. It took me, all in all, about three months after they got back to me the first time. I can't remember the gap in time between when I filed the online adjudication. And, by the way, to all of your listeners, please, go take five minutes of your time, even if it's a phony answer (unintelligible) fight it because it does increase the amount of expenditure that they have to do for these things. But all in all it was probably about a good five months worth of fighting over it, to a point where they actually named -- requested several different types of identification, ended up being utilities bill and a rent payment and a photocopy of my driver's license.

  • 12:19:26


  • 12:19:27

    NNAMDIWow, well, Daniel, you fought it but it seems, Martin, that a lot of people like yours truly, don't dispute their tickets.

  • 12:19:34

    CAROThat's true. And, one, I should point out, one reason why the meantime for resolving appeals is 157 days, because there are so many appeals -- 11,514 last year. But, yeah, some people just assume that they were the guilty party or don't want to deal with the hassle. As you mentioned, you have friends who are in this boat. I have friends who are in this boat.

  • 12:19:57


  • 12:19:57

    CAROThey don't believe that they're wrong, but they don't want to deal with it because they don't feel that they'll get a fair shake.

  • 12:20:01

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. We move on now to Brian, in Washington, D.C. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:12

    BRIANYeah, I just have a quick question. My question is why do the taxpayers have to pay for this equipment? We don't get to vote or have a say so on having all this equipment installed out here on the streets. And then why do they have to charge us so much for the tickets? They don't have to use an officer. They don't have to use any personnel. It's just a camera taking a picture. And then they charge us these exorbitant rates. I've gotten over $1,000 worth of these tickets.

  • 12:20:35

    NNAMDIWell, if you're a taxpayer who happens to live in the District of Columbia, you should communicate your objections or your views to your council member, because the council will undoubtedly be looking at this report and trying to make a decision about exactly how speed cameras and parking tickets should be regulated, right, Martin?

  • 12:20:54

    CAROExactly, the council. You know, this is not an intractable program. Although, as of now, the speed cameras -- and you mentioned the number of those at the top of the broadcast. Folks, you can go and find the speed cameras.

  • 12:21:05

    NNAMDIThat's true.

  • 12:21:05

    CAROThey're not going anywhere. It's all listed at the Metropolitan Police Department's website. There are 48 red-light cameras. All the locations are listed. All those speed cameras' locations are listed. My -- I had a question for the caller. I don't know if he's still there.

  • 12:21:17

    NNAMDIHe's still there.

  • 12:21:18


  • 12:21:18

    BRIANYeah, I'm here.

  • 12:21:19

    CARO…you said you had $1,000 in speeding tickets. Well, were you speeding?

  • 12:21:24

    BRIANI don't know.

  • 12:21:25

    CAROOh, come on.

  • 12:21:26

    BRIANSome of them, I may have been. Some of them, I may have not have been.

  • 12:21:29

    NNAMDIDid you dispute any of them? Did you appeal?

  • 12:21:32

    BRIANNo. I didn't. It was because of -- the process is just so difficult. And I wasn't even driving the car, but they send the ticket to me.

  • 12:21:38

    CAROWell, I don't want to be the judge and the jury here, but I would suggest that you pay attention to how fast you're going so you know if you're speeding.

  • 12:21:44

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We have time for one more. Let's go to Milton, in Beltsville, Md. Milton, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:21:52

    MILTONYes. This model of -- if you -- if the car's registered to you, therefore, you're responsible. I ended up paying $1,100 for $11 worth of tolls on the 495 toll way in Virginia. Went through three attorneys who said this statute that they wrote in Virginia is so new that they haven't had a chance to even challenge it in court to see its legality, simply because it's just -- they haven't been able to find a way to object its legality.

  • 12:22:37

    CAROSo someone else was driving your car, went through the toll lanes, didn't pay the toll and you got stuck with the bill?

  • 12:22:43

    MILTONCorrect. The transponder wasn't in the car. They went -- presumably one of my kids used the car, went onto the toll lanes. I found out about it a year later.

  • 12:22:54

    CAROOh, my.

  • 12:22:55

    MILTONWell, instead of paying $7,800 worth of fines and fees for $11 of tolls that I knew nothing of, I ended up ostensibly having to pay $1,100 to get out of it.

  • 12:23:06

    CAROWell, you're supposed to get those notices immediately. It's not supposed to take a year. That's -- I'm sorry to hear that.

  • 12:23:11

    MILTONExactly. And, you know, and nevertheless, after going through three attorneys who had never even heard -- well, how is this possible. And so, you know, one attorney simply said, "It's going to cost you more to pay me than to pay the tickets. Go ahead and pay it and settle it."

  • 12:23:28


  • 12:23:28

    MILTONWell, this is a model that's now being used across the board in the metropolitan area, of, you know what, it's your car, therefore you're responsible. Regardless of whether or not somebody -- in Canada, California…

  • 12:23:41

    NNAMDIYes. There's going to be…

  • 12:23:42

    MILTON…they take a picture of your face.

  • 12:23:45

    CAROYeah, well, that…

  • 12:23:45

    NNAMDIThis report is going to cause a lot of outrage that I'm sure our council members will be hearing about.

  • 12:23:49

    CAROYeah, that's why you don't get points on your license, because they can't prove who was behind the wheel, but they do use the whole idea of, well, it's your car, so you will get the ticket rationale. But I feel very bad for that caller, that he got stuck with a one-year delay in getting a notice.

  • 12:24:04

    NNAMDIYeah, we got an email from Marion, in Sterling, Va., who said, "We had a similar situation with E-ZPass. Got a letter from Delaware that my son had run the toll booth, but the E-ZPass records show that the toll was paid with his transponder. Lots of time spent getting all the right documentation to the right folks, but it was ultimately settled in our favor." Which is what I think all people who appeal are hoping for.

  • 12:24:27

    NNAMDIAnd, as we said, this is an ongoing issue, so we'll be hearing more about it and we'll talk to you some more about it, Martin Di Caro.

  • 12:24:32

    CAROYeah, hearing coming up before the D.C. Council at the end of September. And we'll be on it here. My colleague, Martin Austermuhle, has done some excellent reporting on this as well.

  • 12:24:42

    NNAMDIMarti and Martin. Martin Di Caro is WAMU 88.5's transportation reporter. Martin, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:24:48

    CAROAll right. Any time, Kojo.

  • 12:24:49

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the Navy Yard shootings one year later. A look at what it's meant for security clearances and for workplace safety. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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