City speed cameras cut number of violations
March 31, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 1:30 p.m. March 31, 2010
Cameras installed along Southeast Second Avenue to deter speeders cut the number of violations during their first year of operation, city data shows.
The city recorded about 110 violations per day in May 2009 — about a month after speeders started to receive $124 fines for exceeding the 20 mph limit. By January 2010, the number of violations had fallen to about 40 per day — a drop of about 64 percent. The city released the data Wednesday.
Workers installed the cameras last March in the school zone near Clark Elementary School, Issaquah Middle School, Issaquah High School and Tiger Mountain Community High School. For several weeks after the installation, speeders received warnings. In mid April of last year, the city started penalizing violators.
The cameras operate from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, and shut down after school and during school holidays. Officials launched the program to free up Issaquah Police officers to patrol other areas.
Violations caught by the cameras generated about $360,000 for the city. The police department issued about 4,920 citations as a result of the cameras.
The city contracted with American Traffic Solutions, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company, to administer the cameras. The contract costs the city $4,750 per month.
The city did not complete a formal cost analysis for the program, although the effort incurs expenses, such as Municipal Court costs. Moreover, police officers must review and then approve or reject each violation.
Of the violators caught speeding by the cameras, 691 requested and received mitigation hearings, where the driver admitted to the infraction and asked for a reduced fine. Another 225 said they did not commit the infraction and challenged the citation. About 10 percent of the violators failed to pay the fine, and a collection agency took their information.
The infraction is a noncriminal offense, like a parking ticket, and does not become part of the driver’s record.
The system — installed across from Clark Elementary near the intersection of Second Avenue Southeast and Southeast Evans Street — uses roadway sensors to alert the cameras to speeding vehicles. The system includes a pair of cameras to record video of the violation and snap a photo of a speeding vehicle’s rear license plate.
Officials do not plan to expand the camera network beyond Southeast Second Avenue.
Issaquah joined a network of local governments nationwide when the city activated the cameras. Supporters said the devices helped ensure safety in a bustling school zone. Opponents contend the cameras violate privacy and nail unknowing drivers.
The cameras prompted a class-action lawsuit last year. Attorneys challenged Issaquah, Seattle and more than a dozen other Washington cities, and said officials had overcharged drivers caught by speed and red-light cameras. The lawsuit accused officials of entering into deals with camera manufacturers in order to turn a profit. Attorneys for plaintiffs wanted officials to refund fines collected as a result of violations caught on camera.
U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour in Seattle dismissed the lawsuit in early March.
In 2005, the Legislature passed a law allowing Washington cities to issues citations to drivers photographed violating red lights or speed limits in school zones.
Anne Teigen, a transportation policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the trend to add enforcement cameras continues to grow nationwide.
“Cameras have gone from red lights and speed, and they have now expanded to school zones, railroad crossings and toll roads,” Teigen said.
Studies conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety on Arizona, Maryland and Washington, D.C., roadways showed a 70 to 95 percent decline in speeding in areas where enforcement cameras had been installed.
“When drivers know there’s a virtual guarantee that they’ll get a ticket, they slow down,” Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute, said Wednesday.
Cameras caught Steve Sheehan, a Sammamish Plateau resident, speeding — three times within a week — on Southeast Second Avenue late last year. He said he did not see the signs posted to alert drivers to the cameras and, as a result, received fines totaling $372.
If a police officer had enforced the speed limit instead of cameras, he said he could have avoided the stretch of road. Sheehan said he did not see any children in the area when he received the tickets. Cameras caught him twice in the same day as he picked up poinsettias for a fundraiser, and again when he returned a week later to deliver a Christmas present to a teacher at Issaquah High School.
Sheehan, 60, contested the fines in a letter to the Municipal Court; the court cut the penalty to $160. He plans to avoid the section of Southeast Second Avenue in the future.
“The fine is way too steep for first-time offenders,” he said.