HERE IN THE LAND of foreign dignitaries, the native motorist learns at an early age to be on the alert for the dreaded DPL tag - which is a license to commit all sorts of illegal acts without the risk of arrest or prosecution. The approximatly 6,000 diplomatically immune people in this city can get away with reckless driving even when, as in the past, it has resulted in death. Moreover, victims of diplomatic immunity are not in good position to recover compensation for physical or financial hardships.
To make matters worse, the covergae of diplomatic immunity, or impunity, extends to everyone from ambassadors and their families to private servant - whether they are on embassy business or personal outings. The law was enacted in 1790 and is about as up to date as you would expect. In an article Tuesday on the opposite page, Rep. Joseph L. Fisher (D-Va.) noted, however, that interest in changing the statutes governing diplomatic immunity seems to wane between the more dramatic accidents.
The abuses are not limited to occasional serious accidents, however. For example, there are the parking scofflaws. In recent 12-month period, the city reportedly lost about $140,000 in fines for some 30,000 parking violations issued to DPL vehicles. In New York City, another sanctuary of diplomats, statistics for a 10-month period three years ago showed the "Top Twenty" most ticketed diplomatic vehicles. Three Peugeots assigned to the Ugandan mission swept the top three places, with more than 1,700 ignored tickets. In figures for Washington a year ago, the leader among the 126 embassies and legations was the Soviet Embassy, with 8,865 unpaid tickets over 11 months - which was 6,000 more than second-place Israel.
Mr. Fisher has been pushing for repeal of the 1790 law; this would allow the United States to conform with an agreement signed in 1972 along with more than 100 other nations. The agreement limits deplomatic immunity to top officials on official business. Mr. Fisher also supports a requirement that all foreign non-residents who bring cars into this country for personal use obtain liability insurance. Legislation is needed, too, says Mr. Fisher, to compensate U. S. citizens for damages caused by diplomatic immunity. These are sound and long overdue measures. They should be enacted this year.