Six weeks after I highlighted the D.C. government’s questionable practice of revoking the licenses of drivers who incurred relatively humdrum Virginia speeding tickets, city legislators are moving to fix the problem.
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) told her colleagues Thursday she intends to move emergency legislation at next week’s council meeting — the first since the body’s summer break started in July. It would restore the driving rights of dozens of otherwise responsible motorists who incurred “reckless driving” tickets simply by going as little as 11 mph over the speed limit on 70-mph Virginia highways — an offense interpreted as worthy of automatic license revocation by the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.
“We have these things in the law, that if they are interpreted in a certain way, they can be extraordinarily unfair and draconian for no particularly good reason,” Cheh said. “I’m just happy people brought it to my attention.”
For one thing, the bill would reset the number of points incurred by a reckless driving offense. Currently, a reckless driving offense means a 12-point violation for a D.C. driver — enough all by itself to trigger revocation. But compared to other neighboring states, the scale is way out of whack.
In Maryland, reckless driving is six points on a scale where 12 points earns revocation. In Virginia, it’s six points on an 18 point scale. In New Jersey, it’s five points on an 11 point scale. And so on.
Under Cheh’s bill, reckless driving would change to a six-point violation, comparable to Virginia and Maryland. A new, lesser four-point offense of “careless driving” would also be instituted. And, yes, the changes would be made retroactive so the dozens of drivers ensnared in this Catch-22 over the past few months will be able to get their licenses back immediately.
Late last month, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) sent a letter to D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan, asking him to overrule the DMV legal interpretation that led to all of this. Cheh said Nathan has not yet replied, and she and Mendelson now agree the emergency bill is needed to fix the problem sooner rather than later.
Cheh said she remains frustrated things weren’t handled differently by the DMV. “A little bit of common sense should have intervened here,” she said, adding, “You know how bureaucrats are, they can’t admit they were wrong.”
DMV Director Lucinda Babers did not immediately respond to an e-mail for comment.
Emergency legislation is only good for 90 days, so a hearing is set for Sept. 21, on a permanent version of the bill. There you can hear testimony from some of the residents affected by this and watch those bureaucrats do their best to explain themselves.