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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Highway work zone speed cameras could cost you a hefty fine, but lawmakers are considering different penalties

The speed camera system hangs on a post next to North Nevada Street, a block north of Longfellow Elementary School, shown Thursday, May 13, 2021. The camera enforcement system was placed there to slow cars when students are coming and going from Longfellow.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Drivers zooming through highway work zones while workers are present – but troopers are not – could still find themselves on the receiving end of an expensive ticket under a bill making steady progress toward becoming law.

Under current law, the fine for driving over the posted speed limit in a highway work zone when workers are active ranges from $158-$738; however, this year’s bill would offer drivers a cushion. First-time offenders would receive a warning with no fine while any additional violations rack up a $248 penalty.

“From my standpoint, it’s $248 because we want to make the point. This is serious,” prime sponsor Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said before the House Transportation Committee Thursday.

Speed is one of the top three causes of highway work zone injuries in Washington. The state averages 626 work zone injuries annually, though most of those injuries or deaths affect drivers and their passengers, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

If the bill passes, drivers would begin receiving tickets via the new law on July 1 through speed safety cameras deployed by WSDOT in highway construction zones. Speeding violations don’t affect the person’s driving record.

Working through the Legislature, the bill advanced out of the Senate with bipartisan support in a 40-8 vote on Feb. 12 with one member excused. Spokane-area Senators Mike Padden and Mark Schoesler voted against the bill.

A speed camera doesn’t have the same discretion as an actual officer and instead acts as a revenue enhancer, Schoesler said.

“If you come into radar and you’re rapidly de-accelerating, the officer will probably not worry about it,” he said. “But the camera clocks you at five over even though you’re dropping like a rock.”

State troopers do enforce speeding in work zones, but thanks to a statewide shortage of officers, speed cameras are a necessary tool to reduce aggressive driving, Washington State Patrol Captain Deion Glover said.

“Folks working in construction zones deserve a safe place to work as they are helping to improve our infrastructure throughout the state,” Glover said.

Some testifiers cried foul on this legislation for invasion of privacy. However, speed cameras can only take photos of the vehicle or its license plate. The image cannot reveal the faces of the driver or passengers.

Others said the ticket price targets lower-income households because people on the wealthier end can afford to pay the $248 ticket repeatedly, while low-income families cannot.

“These penalties might not serve as a deterrent due to the minimal impact on their financial well-being, and thereby not effectively stopping speeding behaviors among the upper class,” said Stanislav Khozyainov, a Lake Washington High School senior.

Revenue generated from the tickets is first used for maintaining the speed camera system and then used for traffic safety education and DUI patrols.

Under the bill, drivers who fail to pay their speeding ticket within 30 days of receiving the fine, fail to contest their ticket or who have not requested a payment plan risk having their vehicle registration placed on hold by the Department of Licensing.

WSDOT is also required to develop a website to inform people about the use of speed safety cameras in highway work zones.

The bill awaits further action in the House before potentially reaching the House floor.