Driver claims Federal Way traffic cameras are faulty

FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- As a dad to three young kids, Matthew Jarvis is hyper-sensitive about child safety; so it was surprise - if not frustration - that greeted him when he opened the mail in May to find a ticket for speeding through a school zone.

"I was pretty frustrated," Jarvis said, sitting at his kitchen counter, a stack of documents in front of him. "I felt like the city had known about this for a year and a half. They make a million dollars or more a year on these machines. Now it seems like they're just issuing tickets to make money."

The May ticket - for $210 - was Jarvis' second school zone speeding ticket in about a 16-month period; both times, he argued, the yellow flashing lights signifying the school zone in front of Panther Lake Elementary School weren't working and so he - among other drivers - had no idea they needed to slow down.

Further frustrating the father of three: The cameras in the school zone weren't pointed at the flashing lights, so there was no evidence they were working - or not - at the time both tickets were issued. Jarvis pleaded his case to police and a judge, and both times the tickets were dismissed.

"(The video with the ticket) shows you driving through and it shows your speed but it doesn't show you driving past the flashing yellow lights," Jarvis said. "It's a 35 miles per hour zone unless the lights are flashing. When I drove through the lights weren't flashing."

Jarvis said he pointed the issue out to Federal Way Police after the first ticket a year and a half ago. He now wonders how many other drivers have paid tickets unfairly or, perhaps, illegally.

"In all of those school zones where we placed cameras, the camera systems themselves and the yellow lights are hardwired together, so one doesn't operate without the other," said Commander Stan McCall with the Federal Way Police Department. "It's an extremely accurate system and we do monitor it accurately and when we find a problem, we'll fix it."

McCall said the cameras had been fixed over the summer to show the flashing yellow lights. Additional lights were also added so drivers can see them both when they approach the school zone and as they exit.

"When you have a lot of kids and a lot of cars - generally in the same area - there are inherent hazards," McCall added. "The interest is to provide a safe environment for the kids to come and go from school."

Jarvis, meantime, points out the city rakes in millions annually from the cameras, and wonders how many drivers are owed refunds because of a lack of evidence the school zones weren't in effect when they were ticketed.

"I think people are being ticket unfairly, but that's a problem that can be corrected. That's just a technological issue," he said. "I think they owe an apology - and a refund - to anyone who thinks they were issued a ticket incorrectly."