Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Traffic cameras are out of control in DC

Update Feb. 27, 2012:

The speed trap was moved one block north, to the corner of 16th & Jonquil, a couple weeks ago. The calibration lines are now in the actual intersection of 16th & Jonquil. I wonder if this had anything to do with the poor orientation as seen in the photos of my truck? If the camera was simply aimed correctly, it seems like it would have been a lot better, but maybe the curb further obscured the calibration lines in some situations.

Advice: Start using a GPS traffic camera tracker

I downloaded CameraLert and I've been very happy with it. They are a European outfit but I prefer their app to a couple other better-known ones because it's simple, elegant, and the data is verified. The downside is that their DC coverage of speed cameras seems incomplete, but I've been working on getting it filled out. The red-light camera coverage, on the other hand, seems comprehensive and accurate. I think there are some other new DC users recently because I've started seeing "unconfirmed" reports of some of the mobile speed traps.

But they've been very responsive about confirming & updating the database when I've submitted data, and the application itself is by far the best - fast, highly configurable, and stable. Submitting new cameras is a piece of cake.

I hate using these things. I don't have a radar detector. I never worried about traffic cameras before, because I don't run red lights, and I don't drive at unsafe speeds. I go out of my way to help out pedestrians - I'm that guy who will pull my car into the middle of 16th Street so nobody can pass me, put on my hazards and stop for someone trying to cross at a crosswalk because nobody else will.

But if you have to worry about making a right turn on red in the dead of night without coming to a 100% complete stop before the stop line, or get fined 150 bucks?

I mean come on. It's gone too far.

Original post:

Welcome to 2012, kids. Been dark around here for a while, but I felt the need to get this into the wild so that people searching for information on this subject will find something. I don't understand why this subject doesn't generate more outrage, since the cost to the area's residents is on the order of 300 million dollars over the last decade.

In the last 3 months, I've gotten 3 photo enforcement tickets, to the tune of about $450. All of these are found along my 5 mile commute. One was a red-light ticket at 14th and Miltary, the other two are for a newish traffic camera at the 7700 block of 16th Street.

Ticket 1: "SIGNAL PASS RED LITE"


This violation, for running a red light, comes with a $150 price tag. Unfortunately, I didn't run a red light. I made a right turn on red. Here's the actual video of me.

Now I'm sure some people will point out that I did not technically come to a complete stop (though actually, I more or less did). It was 5:00 AM. There was no traffic. I did, actually, more or less stop. And, regardless, the penalty for not coming to a complete stop is less than the penalty for running a red light.


At the end of the day, I was issued a citation for a crime that was different than the one I actually committed. I think $150 is a reasonable fine for actually running a red light. That's incredibly unsafe and I would never dream of doing that.

I think it's an insane fine for the "crime" I committed in the video above. DC seems to think that you should get your hand chopped off whether you stole an apple or robbed a bank -- and in fact, the system can't even distinguish between them.


Ticket #2: 41 in a 30

This was the first of two "speeding" tickets within a couple days, in mid-december, of the 7700 16th Street camera. Here are the photos. The top two are the original before & after, and the bottom two are after processing so you can actually see something useful.



Problem number 1: Notice of infraction received five weeks after the violation. That means, if you didn't know about the camera, you could easily rack up thousands of dollars in fines before you heard about the first one. Well heck, why not just wait a year? This is ridiculous. If you're going to charge us $150 for a computer-generated violation, there is no excuse - other than extortion - for waiting so long to send out the notification. Oh by the way - you guys also have my email address from when I renewed my registration online, for the last 10 years.

Problem number 2: Useless calibration lines, or misoriented camera. On the back of the citation is a detailed explanation of these lines, and shows how to calculate your speed from the picture. Of course, in the example, the lines are actually in the same part of the road as your car. In the actual photos above, if there are even lines on the pavement where the photos of the vehicle were taken, they are out of the field of view.

Problem number 3: Pictures so dark as to require manipulation just to see anything.

Problem number 4: It's just wrong. I was not going 41 MPH. I added the two diagonal lines in the bottom two pictures so as to have a point of reference. The first one was drawn on top of the (barely visible) calibration line that was under the front axle of the truck in the first picture. I copied it into the 2nd picture at exactly the same spot.

You can see it pretty much crosses the center of my front axle in the 1st shot, and my rear axle in the 2nd. The wheelbase of a 1995 Toyota Tacoma regular cab truck is 103.3 inches. The time between the two pictures is 0.2 seconds.

Doing some math:


103.3 in ÷ 12 in/ft ÷ 5280 ft/mile

0.2 sec ÷ 60 sec/min ÷ 60 min/hr


You get the startling result: 29.34 mph

Actually, this isn't very startling, because this camera is on my daily commute and I am not a moron. Even accounting for any imprecision while trying to analyze these horrendous photos, it's impossible I was going this fast. I would have had to travel another 3.5 feet - almost half again the wheelbase of the truck - to be going 41 mph.

Problem #5: This thing is as reliable as a Fiat

In the first week of January I saw people working on this camera for three days in a row. That certainly inspires confidence. But of course, if there was a calibration problem, why bother voiding all the messed-up citations, that you haven't even mailed yet from the previous month? I bet most people will just pay anyway!

Ticket #3: To be determined

I just finished writing all this up for my letter to DMV. It took over an hour to do the photoshopping, math, and so on. For one ticket. I'm looking forward to doing it again for the next one, but unfortunately, I have only set aside 2 hours per day for dealing with automated traffic citations. So that one will have to wait for another day. I assume it's equally bunk since there's clearly something wrong with the camera.

Conclusion: Want to drive in DC? Start paying "protection" money. Because even if you didn't break the law this time, I bet you did some other time!

I've gotten three tickets in as many months, probably none of them legitimate. It takes at least an hour to deal with contesting each one. Assuming, of course, that they are dismissed. If not, I will have to appear in court, or cough up $150 each.

This amounts to racketeering and extortion. It's gotten to the point where I have to pay a couple hundred dollars a month, or spend a great deal of time proving that I did not commit a crime that was photographed by a machine more than a month ago.

And, of course, if there's something wrong with said machine, or you didn't happen to know about it, and it happens to be on a regular route you use, you might get a dozen of these citations before you even know you did anything wrong.

This is out of control.

I urge everyone to contest every single photo citation you receive and complain to your councilmember. This is a shakedown, and it has nothing to do with safety. This has go to stop.

The only way I know to deal with this is to make noise and clog the system. Two and maybe three out of the three citations I've just gotten are bogus. That's a pretty crappy accuracy rate for something that collects $300 million in fines -- a number that will just be getting bigger as more cameras are installed.

So at a minimum, make them work for it. Contest every single one. But please start making noise. When you can't just drive to work without having to prove you didn't break a law a couple times a month, it's gone too far.

19 comments:

La Tricoteuse Heureuse said...

Been down this road... it sucks. We just successfully got rid of ours here in Albuquerque, NM.

1) They shorten the yellow lights to build infractions.
2) Redlight cameras CAUSE more accidents than they prevent.
3) They are against the constitutions of most states.

FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!!!

A friendly neighborhood Officer said...

Ticket 1: "SIGNAL PASS RED LITE"

When I break out my D.C. collateral book, "Passing Red Light (T113)", it cites DCMR 2103.7. Let's see what that says:

18 DCMR 2103.7 (a): Vehicular traffic facing the signal shall stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection

18 DCMR 2103.7 (b):
Stopped vehicles shall remain standing until green, green arrow, or flashing yellow is shown, except as provided in paragraph (c) of this subsection; and

18 DCMR 2103.7 (c): A vehicle facing a steady red signal may cautiously enter the intersection to turn right after stopping. The vehicle shall yield right-of-way to pedestrians within an adjacent crosswalk and to other traffic lawfully using the intersection.

You said: "I did not technically come to a complete stop (though actually, I more or less did)." There is no 'technical' stops. Either you stopped or you didn't. If the video is you, you didn't. You rolled through the stop line and the nearest crosswalk and *almost* ceased movement. You earned this ticket.

Ticket #2: 41 in a 30

You can argue that you were doing less than 10 in excess of the limit instead of 11 to 15, which might get you off if I was running LIDAR, but in general you're not because, by law, there are calibration logs for each device. Could they be B.S.? Maybe, but you'd need an attorney, an engineer, a stack of subpoenas and thousands of dollars to prove it. More likely, from my experience running LIDAR, is that you were going that fast more or less and that your math and measurements are off.

As for the citations, generally they hand out warnings for the first few weeks, like with the box cameras that they put up on Missouri Avenue, Rock Creek Park, etc. You didn't get any warning tickets?

I've gotten three tickets in as many months, probably none of them legitimate. It takes at least an hour to deal with contesting each one. Assuming, of course, that they are dismissed. If not, I will have to appear in court, or cough up $150 each.

The first ticket is entirely legit. Stop rolling through lights. It's not going to kill you to get home five seconds later. As for the second and third, good luck contesting them, but maybe you should just not speed on those sections of 16th Street. Or if you are, realize that the cameras usually don't activate until you're doing above ten miles per hour.

Jamie said...

Officer:

As I already said, the actual violation code on the ticket, as well as the fines, are different for running a red light, and failing to come to a complete stop before making a right turn on red. Yes, it is true, you can't just write someone a ticket for something OTHER than the violation they committed.

#2: "there are calibration logs for each device. Could they be B.S.? Maybe, but you'd need an attorney, an engineer, a stack of subpoenas and thousands of dollars to prove it."


So, basically, you are confirming my point: this is a shakedown, and the specifics of whether or not I actually commited a moving violation are unimportant, because it's impossible for an average citizen to fight.

Thanks for clearing that up.

"The first ticket is entirely legit. Stop rolling through lights"

If the ticket had been for that violation, and the fine associated with it, then you'd have a point. They are different violations. They have different fines. The point is, the machine cannot distinguish between them, and therefore, probably can't even identify a perfect right turn on red.

"but maybe you should just not speed on those sections of 16th Street."

Where in this post did I say I was speeding? Quite the opposite, there is photographic evidence that I was obeying the speed limit.

Jamie said...

FYI:

http://www.lefande.com/COLLATERAL2011.pdf


T113 Passing a red light [DCMR 18 § 2103] $150.00

T113 Fail to come to a complete stop before turning
[DCMR 18 § 2103.7] $100.00


But whatever, eh?

A friendly neighborhood Officer said...

As I already said, the actual violation code on the ticket, as well as the fines, are different for running a red light, and failing to come to a complete stop before making a right turn on red....

If the ticket had been for that violation, and the fine associated with it, then you'd have a point. They are different violations. They have different fines. The point is, the machine cannot distinguish between them, and therefore, probably can't even identify a perfect right turn on red.

T113 Passing a red light [DCMR 18 § 2103] $150.00

T113 Fail to come to a complete stop before turning


First of all, LeFande's document isn't the actual collateral book, it's a product of the actual collateral book and his (lawyerly) reading of DCMR. The actual collateral book which is created by the department with guidance from the DMV is sitting in front of me.

Looking at the citation, Signal Pass Red Light is T-code T113 ($150). Failure to Come to a complete stop before turning right on red is T-Code T116 ($50). Both infractions cite 18 DCMR 2103.7. Right on Red additionally cites 18 DCMR 4013. If you really want to get technical, you violated both and could have earned two tickets but were issued only one. You did not complete stop before entering the crosswalk or the intersection by your own admission.

So, basically, you are confirming my point: this is a shakedown, and the specifics of whether or not I actually commited a moving violation are unimportant, because it's impossible for an average citizen to fight.

Thanks for clearing that up.


In the meta sense, it is a shakedown only because it shouldn't be the job of traffic enforcement to extract revenue from citizens. It should be corrective. It isn't as corrective as a cop pulling you over, running your license, holding you up, and issuing you tickets. In that sense I agree.

But also your gripe is the same one heard ad infinitum in traffic courts the world over that, "I did violate the law, but why in the hell do *I* have to pay and all those other assholes don't?".

Where in this post did I say I was speeding? Quite the opposite, there is photographic evidence that I was obeying the speed limit.

Debatable because your math is fuzzy. Speed, IIRC, is Distance/Time. You'd need to go out and calculate how far you traveled (by measuring the hashmarks on the pavement) and divide that by time. You're also calculating by estimating where your wheel base was versus something simpler, like how far your bumper traveled.

Moreover, if the cameras were set up with NHTSA guidelines in mind, which I'm sure they were, the cameras are probably calibrated for 10+ over. Given my experience with other speed cameras in D.C., that's probably the case.

Jamie said...

Ah even better - my mistake, I was only over-fined by $50. So if I really want to get technical, I should thank DC for only citing me for one incorrect violation, instead of kicking out my tail light and getting me for that too?

You keep missing the basic point: I did not commit the violation for which I was cited. I personally think that when fining people hundreds of dollars, that it's somewhat important that they be fined for what they did, and not just some random traffic law. I think most courts would agree with this, too.

Ultimately, all you are proving here is that the laws are designed to be complex and extortionary. We agree on one thing: the purpose of all this is to make money.

One of those signs that flashes your speed would do a lot more to reduce speeding than anything else, and sending people bills a month later really has no effect on driving habits.

Finally - the reason for using my wheelbase is because it's a known distance in the photo. I don't know why you think it's any less accurate than any other known distance, but at the end of the day, it's the only know distance that can be used to compare the two photos, without some very complex 3 dimensional calculations.

What would I use to calculate how far my bumper traveled? There are no reference points in the picture, duh. Did you miss the part where I complained about the uselessness of the hash marks?

I am not sure why you think this is "fuzzy". I am a lot more confident that every 1995 Toyota Tacoma has a 103" wheelbase, than I am that DC painted marks at exactly five foot intervals, anyway. (Which I can't use anyway, since they aren't present in the area of the picture).

Dear "Friendly Neighborhood Cop" said...

I drive that stretch of road everyday on 16th St. The speed limit is 30. So even if his math is off by 5mph the camera is wrong. Which wouldn't surpise me since I see a tech working on it one every two weeks.

Where does one find the D.C collateral book. I find it incredibly frustrating that when in the past I have tried to search for what the laws/regs are it is impossible to figure out whats official.

I have gotten a number of tickets in the past 12 months for stuff that I never have been ticketed for in my past 8 years of living in DC. All contested all denied - so I don't exactly think the system is fair and balanced to borrow a phrase.

Jamie said...

@"Dear" - exactly. To get me up to 41 from my math the car would have had to go another 3.5-4 feet in 0.2 seconds. That's a big difference and would be way out of line from the pics as taken.

So either the time isn't 0.2 seconds, or I wasn't going 41 MPH. Either way the camera is effed. And yes, there are techs there all the time.

The problem with the entire system is that exemplified by Officer Friendly's attitude.

"You didn't come to a complete stop." -- but that wasn't the violation I was cited for; and it was 5 am. My action at that red light was not even remotely unsafe. An actual cop would never have stopped me.

But it doesn't matter -- $150 bucks buddy! The camera doesn't know or care.

"Don't speed on that stretch of 16th street." Well no kidding! I drive it every day. I've managed to go through the Carter Barron one a thousand times without a ticket, why would I be so stupid as to get 2 tickets in a week at this one?

The assumption is always that the citizen is guilty. And the system is designed to make it very difficult to prove otherwise -- the burden of proof is on me, and the price tag is way out of proportion to the crime.

Charles Packer said...

A couple of years ago I got my first-ever photo speed ticket by going 59 in a 45 mph zone on westbound I-395. I answered by mail by simply asking for a reduction of fine because of mitigating circumstances: Dry weather, low traffic, and everybody else was going 60. Ticket dismissed. On this basis I have a hunch that if you respond by mail you can generally get the ticket dismissed not by contesting it, but, in effect, admitting guilt with an explanation.

Jamie said...

Haha - so if I just say
"I'm sorry" I could get off, but if I try to demonstrate empirically that the ticket was BS, I'll probably have to pay.

What a country!

Suse said...

Egads - I think I had better start biking to work.

Elle Kasey said...

Wow, that peek inside the mind of a traffic officer was horrifying. Asserting it's fine to charge you with crimes not committed while confirming they weren't the crimes you committed while insisting you somehow got off easy because you only got the bogus tickets you did rather than the ones you could have. I have deep respect for the people who will take a bullet to keep the streets safe, who investigate crimes to find criminals and who can maintain law and order. But yowza the mind of someone dedicated to ridding the streets of rolling right turners at 5am busted by electronic devices with legal and technical difficulties... I cannot even begin to imagine being that person.

Dear "Friendly Neighborhood Cop" said...

@Charles - I think what you are missing is that your experience was a couple of years ago. A couple of years ago common sense and civility was taken into account. Now the city needs money and doesn't care how they get it.

Jamie said...

7:15 AM, and it's a dreary, sleety, two-hours-delayed Monday for much of the Washington, DC region.

But not for the 7700 16th Street speeding camera maintenance crew!

Like the postman, no weather can stop them from their service calls on the world's most unreliable speed trap.

Since these things have been installed in the name of pedestrian safety, it's ironic that the serviceperson chose to park his SUV in the sidewalk this time. Usually, they block a lane of traffic during rush hour (you know, where someone parked would be towed). Of course, since I've never actually seen a pedestrian up there except on the weekend during services, I suppose it's a wash.

joonymoon said...

I was out of town when my car was caught on video going through a red light. I have asked every family member that has a key to my house and no one will admit to borrowing my car without permission. I have watched the video many times and cannot see who the culprit was that was driving my car that day. How can I find out who was driving? I can't afford to pay $158 for a crime I did not commit. I am doing my best to make ends meet on my social security check.

legalprism said...

@joonymoon - contest it. Are you sure it was taken? The reason I'm on this board is bc I got a ticket for a time when neither my wife or I could have been driving (was at work) and on a street/direction (New York Ave westbound) that we would never be on during the week anyway. Something is very wrong here. If this happened to you, post and contest. We have paystubs to prove it. The picture taken of the car was not in high res enough to see the license plate, and the picture of the license plate did not show the position of the car, nor a timestamp to verify a date/time.

The whole thing seems like a due process violation to me. Signal Pass Red Lite is not a violation in any handbook I can find, nor is its definition. Without notice, the ticket is a taking of property, which is against the constitution if done without posted notice. If the technology isn't there to identify the violation, that is not an excuse to shortchange constitutional rights in order to make a quick couple hundred from citizens.

Be vocal about your experiences, contest your tickets if they are wrong, and share winning tactics and links to more information.

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Anonymous said...

I think your math is messed up for your speed calculation. try this
103"/12 = 10.8'
.2sec x 5 =1 sec
10.8' x 5 = 54'per second
54'x60 = 3240' per minute
3240 x 60 = 194,400' per hour
194,400 / 5,280 = 36.8 mph

Anonymous said...

oops my bad,
103.3 / 12 = 8.58' not 10.8'
your calculations are correct.