LYNNWOOD – The problem is more startling than police expected. Three people an hour are running the red lights at a trio of the city’s busiest intersections.
Three weeks ago, the city turned on three traffic cameras to catch drivers who run red lights. So far, the cameras have nabbed 1,652 people blowing through red lights.
That averages 82 violations a day, or more than three drivers an hour.
“It’s so much more than we expected. So much more,” Lynnwood police spokeswoman Shannon Sessions said. “We thought maybe 75 people in the first week. We had more than 350. It’s a surprise.”
Red-light runners could be in for their own surprise. Beginning Sunday, the city will mail $112 tickets to people who are photographed breaking the law.
Under new legislation, the ticket, along with other standard traffic violations, jumps to $124 in mid-July.
“For some people, I think it’s going to take getting a ticket before they realize we are serious,” Sessions said.
If tickets had been sent out during these first few weeks, drivers running red lights would have racked up $9,000 a day in fines.
Instead, the city has been sending warning letters and a picture of the violation to the registered owners of the vehicles.
Those letters come with a photograph that captures the violation. The vehicles’ owners also are given access to a Web site that allows them to watch a video feed of the offense.
“It’s a reality check,” said Lynnwood police Cmdr. Chuck Steichen.
Lynnwood is the first city in the county to use the red-light camera technology.
Everett will soon have its own cameras, which were included in this year’s budget. And Mill Creek also is studying the traffic control devices and possibly installing them in school zones to catch speeders.
Not all of the vehicles caught on camera in Lynnwood are tagged as violations. In the past three weeks, about 100 have been rejected. They are just too close to call, Steichen said.
Police haven’t heard any complaints from those who were sent warnings. They have heard from people who want more cameras installed at other locations, Steichen said.
A fourth camera was set to be operational this week. The majority of violations are happening at 36th Avenue W. and 196th Street SW, Sessions said.
The traffic cameras are snapping photographs at paparazzi speed, triggered by sensors in the pavement that are set off by vehicles moving through the intersection.
Drivers who don’t fully stop before turning right at a red light also will be ticketed.
The video and still photos are reviewed by a contractor hired by Lynnwood to oversee the technology. Apparent violations are passed on to police, who also must determine that a law was broken before sending a ticket to the vehicles’ registered owners.
Because other people may be driving at the time of the violation, state law doesn’t allow the tickets to go on the driver’s record.
Lynnwood uses more than 400 cameras as part of its traffic management. The majority are fixed and are only used to signal that a car has approached an intersection.
Thirty of the cameras take color images and are used to study traffic patterns and recognize problems, said Les Rubstello, the city’s transportation division manager.
Lynnwood police often heard complaints about people running red lights, Sessions said.
“Clearly the citizens were right,” Sessions said. “More important than handing out citations these are going to prevent collisions and save lives.”