Lucky speeders have their tickets refunded

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Speed Racers get off scot free in Washington and Baltimore.

Speed Racers get off scot free in Washington and Baltimore. Image: JD Hancock/Flickr/CC BY

Many drivers on the east coast are no doubt scratching their heads in disbelief as they witness the profoundly unlikely: they are being issued refunds on past speeding tickets because of improperly programmed speeding cameras.

More than 7,000 tickets

More than 7,000 speeding tickets, dating back as far as November, are being refunded to drivers in Washington D.C. to the tune of more than $1.2 million. The mis-calibrated camera responsible for the unprecedented rebate was mounted in the Third Street tunnel.

Posted limit misread

The tunnel was under construction at the time of the erroneous citations, thereby reducing the posted speed from 45 m.p.h. to 40 m.p.h. The camera, on the other hand, which had not been updated, still read the posted limit at 45 m.p.h. So, because of the way the municipal regulations are phrased, even though the mistake actually cost the city untold numbers of legitimate speeding citations — those traveling over 40 m.p.h. but under 45 m.p.h. — it will be eating crow and paying back the citations it did issue to motorist traveling in excess of 45 m.p.h.

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D.C. tab

The controversial automated cameras have become a cash cow for the D.C. area. According to the Washington Times, the cameras brought in more than $55 million in 2011, bolstered by a 150 percent fine increase. This year, they have earned D.C. more than $40 million, making it ahead of the game from last year.

Baltimore blunder

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, Md., another 3,000 plus speeding tickets are being invalidated. Those tickets were issued to motorists traveling 12 m.p.h. or more over the posted limit between December and April at a specific spot on Wabash Avenue. However, the misinformed camera cited the speeders at an incorrect location.

To protect and serve?

More and more cities, beaten by the economic downturn, have become increasingly reliant on automated traffic cameras to generate revenue. The cameras are generally supplied and monitored by third party private businesses that take a percentage of the ticket revenue. Many citizens and activist groups contend that law enforcement should be about public safety and order, and not about revenue generation.

Crossing ‘T’s, dotting ‘I’s

Some may see a travesty of justice in these cities having to reimburse law violators over a technicality. Others still may feel that, if law enforcement is using remote technology to catch violators without the actual involvement of law enforcement personnel, it needs be held to a very strict standard.


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