Getting CUA Law Students Up to Speed on Traffic Fines

By John Kruzel ‘14

BROOKLAND – Laura Suelau stepped on the accelerator of her gray Jeep Grand Cherokee as the colorful dome of the basilica appeared around a bend in the 100 block of Michigan Avenue NE.

The first-year law student watched CUA campus come into view as she made her way toward 1L orientation in fall 2010. Unbeknownst to Suelau, the eye of the law was also watching, photographing her license plate as she sped through the 25 mile-per-hour zone near Trinity College.

It was more than two weeks before Suelau (‘13) received a ticket from the District of Columbia. By then, however, she had already racked up six more speeding violations on the Michigan Avenue block, each ticket ranging from $125-$150.

On top of tuition and book costs, Suelau now owed the District of Columbia $900.

The use of traffic cameras like the one mounted near CUA campus has come into sharper focus after it was revealed the District of Columbia netted more than $55 million in revenues last year from automated speeding and red light tickets.

“Probably $1 million of that is from me,” Suelau joked.

Critics argue that with some automated fines in the city rising as much as 500-percent over the past five years, the disproportionate penalties fail to achieve the appropriate balance between traffic safety and revenue.

While many bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists applaud the District’s beefed up traffic enforcement, one angry local driver notes the 25 mile-per-hour limit on the stretch near CUA Law campus seems unduly restrictive in an area with minimal pedestrian use.

“I’ve been driving up there one time per week for about three years and the only pedestrian I’ve seen between Michigan Ave NE and Fort Drive NE is the cop getting out of the car to check the camera,” notes commenter Eric, writing on the the Prince of Petworth, a blog covering issues primarily in the Northeast D.C. quadrant.

Among the CUA Law community, Suelau is not the only student with a tale of woe after having been ensnared in the Michigan Avenue speed trap multiple times, yielding a small stack of traffic tickets.

One former CUA Law student owed hundreds of dollars in traffic fines after 1L orientation. Like Suelau, the student was photographed speeding through the zone multiple times before receiving any notice of the first violation.

As calls for the resignation of scandal-ridden D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray grow louder, the issue of automated traffic cameras may play a larger role on the local political landscape.

According to the Washington Post, D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, a likely candidate for mayor, has formed a task force to explore whether fines issued by automated traffic cameras are exacting too high a toll from motorists.

“The goal of assuring safety has been eclipsed by the government’s dependence upon the revenue generated by high fines,” Wells said. “With the use of cameras assuring stricter enforcement of our traffic laws, the need for high fines should be revisited.”

Wells plans to use the task force recommendations to revisit the fine issue this fall when the council returns from summer recess, according to the report.

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