At last Friday's hearing there were several people who showed up to oppose the increase in fines proposed by DDOT in December 2015 as part of the vision zero process. Several council-members and the Mayor appear to agree, so it is likely they will be modified.
At a D.C. Council hearing, D.C. Department of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo defended the plan to implement higher penalties, saying they are intended to deter dangerous behaviors responsible for many of the city’s traffic fatalities, but admitted there’s no significant correlation between higher fines and changes in behavior.
Since the proposal was made public, Dec.11, DDOT has received 250 comments, many of them in opposition to the new rules, Dormsjo said. An average of 3,500 drivers are caught driving 25 miles an hour over the posted speeds each year, he said
“Given the prevalence of speeding in our fatalities, we think an aggressive stance on the highest speed offenses is warranted,” he said, noting that there is overrepresentation of cyclists and pedestrian deaths. “The majority of those unfortunate incidents are occurring in residential neighborhoods where the posted speed is 25 miles per hour.”
The higher penalties, he said, are intended to deter dangerous behaviors, chiefly speeding, which is a factor in about a third of traffic fatalities in the city. An average of 3,500 drivers are caught driving 25 miles an hour over the posted speeds each year, he said, noting that from 2010 to 2014, the District issued 17,379 citations for that violation. Sixty percent of those infractions were made on city streets and 40 percent on freeways.
When asked how the District came up with the proposed fines, Dormsjo pointed to at least nine other states that have a maximum speeding fine of at least $1,000. Nationally, the median fine for the most dangerous speeders is $500. In an earlier interview, Dormsjo said that upping the penalties is key to leveling the playing field in a region where the District’s “fine regime is the weakest.”
“Increasing the fines and consequences of traveling 25 miles per hour or 30 miles per hour over the speed limit make a lot of sense to me,” Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) said. “Three-hundred dollars for speeding 30 miles per hour over the limit I think is silly. I will go further: I think it’s stupid.”
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the committee, said the question is not whether there should be penalties for violators, but whether there was justification for higher fines.
Several of the proposed increases relate to drivers interacting with pedestrians and bicyclists. The fine for hitting a cyclist would increase from $50 to $500; a driver failing to yield to a pedestrian while turning right on red would incur a fine of $200 rather than $50; and the penalty for parking in a bike lane would increase from the current $65 to $200 for private cars and $300 for commercial vehicles. Swinging open a parked car’s door into the path of a cyclist would cost $100 instead of $25.
The public comment period on the proposal has been extended until January 31.
The city’s top transportation official said Friday that the proposed penalty for speeding drivers, along with other increases in fines for traffic violators, will probably change following the uproar from D.C. residents and some elected officials, too.