Many of you who endure Washington's traffic snarls are probably cheering The Washington Post's latest expose of ticket fixing. You hope our reports will result in improvement.
Alas, there is little chance that your hope will be realized. I have lived through a dozen ticket fixing exposes and have seen no improvement.
Most exposes are followed by announcements that from now on we will use a new system that will make ticket fixing impossible. But very soon everything is back to normal. Tickets are again fixed by the same people who fixed them before. The only thing that changes is the number of tickets fixed. Usually, it increases.
Years ago, there was a big "from now on" announcement that gave me hope. "From now on, every traffic ticket will be numbered," we were told, "and every number will have to be accounted for."
A year later, an enterprisisng reporter discovered that thousands of numbers hadn't been accounted for. Nobody in the city government had any interest in finding out why.
However, public criticism was sharp, so city officials announced there would be a big shakeup in the system.
"From now on, every traffic ticket will have a duplicate," we heard, "and every duplicate will have to be accounted for."
A year later, an enterprising reporter discovered that thousands of duplicates hadn't been accounted for. Nobody in the city government had any interest in finding out why.
Public criticism was sharp, as usual, so city officials announced there would be another big shakeup.
"From now on," they said, "traffic tickets will be computerized. There will be no way to adjust them."
Adjust? The word is fix , baby - as in "fix a horse race." And an enterprising reporter can find just as many "adjustments" today under the computerized system as there were before the crooked fix became electronically enhanced. Maybe more.
Sad to say, city officials still have no great interest in doing anything about these abuses. In fact, officials are among the chief offenders.
That's a pity, because ticket fixing is doubly harmful. It diminishes respect for traffic laws; and when traffic laws can be disregarded with impunity, respect for all law is diminished. The Constitution's basic concept - equal justice under law - is incompatible with a system that requires obedience from some people but not from others.
If disrespect for law were the only harmful effect produced by ticket fixing, it would be reason enough for ending the practice. Unfortunately, ticket fixing also helps keep traffic in a perpetual tangle. It is at the very root of our traffic mess.
Stroll along any downtown street on any weekday and take note of the moving violations: illegal turns, blocked intersections, vehicles going through red lights. Count the illegal parkers and double parkers and triple parkers. Notice how few of these violators are given tickets. Then ask yourself, "Where is the enforcement? And what difference would it make if we had vigorous enforcement?" The people who endanger lives and block traffic don't pay tickets anyhow. A lot of them aren't even punished when they cause accidents while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Mind you now, I am not suggesting that our entire traffic mess is the result of ticket fixing and feeble enforcement. We must also take notice of drivers who are selfish, inattentive, hostile, inept, poorly trained or just plain stupid. And we musn't overlook pedestrians who have similar characteristics. All make a significant contribution to the glacier-like speed at which traffic moves here.
However, the drivers and pedestrians could never have reduced Washington traffic to its present state without expert help from our elected and appointed officials, backed by the people with clout who determine how the District of Columbia's revenues should be spent.
Thanks to them, we have traffic lights that malfunction at a frightful rates and make a bad situation impossible. Lights get stuck on red in one direction, green in the other, and refuse to change. Lights on our busiest streets get out of synchronization and stay out of synchronization for months and years at a stretch. Modern technology knows how to program computers to give more "green time" to streets where traffic is piling up, but the District of Columbia can't afford to modernize.
Instead of fixing tickets, we should be fixing our absurd signal system.