The District’s plan to hike fines for traffic violations as part of its Vision Zero program to eliminate all roadway deaths by 2024 is running into opposition just as the proposals officially are released to the public.
As WAMU 88.5 first reported on Wednesday, the District Department of Transportation is proposing higher fines for 20 moving violations, in some cases jacking up penalties by hundreds of dollars. For instance, the fine for speeding at least 26 miles per hour over the limit would increase from $300 to $1,000.
“These fees are draconian,” said John Townsend of the drivers’ group AAA Mid-Atlantic, saying D.C. will become a “debtors’ prison” for people of modest income who can’t afford to pay the penalties.
“In fact, if the speeding ticket is not paid in 30 days, the fine would double,” he added. Townsend vowed AAA would fight the DDOT proposals to prevent them from taking effect in their current form.
Among the changes, the penalty for striking a bicyclist would rise from $50 to $500. Failure to yield to a bus entering traffic currently is not fined; the new penalty would be $500. The fine for parking in a bike lane would soar to $300 from $65.
AAA contends there is no connection between high fines and safety, pointing to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) of the Montgomery County automated enforcement program (speed cameras).
The study found a “59 percent reduction in the likelihood that a vehicle was traveling more than 10 mph above the speed limit at camera sites seven and a half years after speed cameras were launched,” according to a AAA statement.
“The fine is only $40,” said Townsend.
AAA also points to Virginia’s effort last decade to crack down on motorists by enacting civil remedial fees. Speeding tickets were increased to up to $2,500, but was ruled unconstitutional in court after a severe public backlash.
The proposed changes by DDOT — part of the District’s soon-to-be unveiled Vision Zero action plan — will be published today. A 30-day public comment period will follow. The new rules could take effect within the first few months of 2016.
Ann McCartt, the head of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said there is little evidence based on the available research to establish a connection between high fines and safer streets.
“When it comes to traffic violations, what research mostly shows is that it’s the certainty of a motorist being apprehended and punished that’s important, more than the severity of the punishment,” said McCartt in an interview.
“There could be unintended consequences of very high fines. If fines are viewed as unfair or harsh, police might be less likely to issue a citation, courts may be less likely to find a driver guilty, and if fines are too high people may not have the resources to pay them,” she said.