PETRIFIED PEDESTRIANS and motorists, rejoice: Greater Washington is moving to crack down on this region's roving menace, the red- light runner. As we have indicated on more than a few occasions, the mass disregard of bright red traffic lights -- not yellow, not about-to-be red -- has turned too many city and suburban intersections into death traps for those who assume they may proceed safely when they get a green light.
The only way to begin curbing this lethal practice is to make arrests and make the punishments tougher -- and this is precisely what all the local governments of this region are going to consider tomorrow.
On the agenda of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments -- the agency that recommends and forges interjurisdictional agreements affecting the entire region -- is a recommendation from its public safety policy committee for a serious crackdown by all its participating governments on all drivers who fail to heed red lights. By all means!
Noting that running a red light is against the law in every jurisdiction, the committee cites a "growing sense of increasing occurrences of red-light violations by drivers in all localities. . . ." (Perhaps, just perhaps, you may have noticed already.) Another "whereas" in the proposal notes that "the safety and welfare not only of pedestrians, but also of law-abiding motorists, are threatened." To crack down, the committee is urging that the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of the District support enactment of laws permitting the region's member governments to:
* Increase existing fines for first-time violations;
* Increase traffic-point assessments for first-time offenders;
* Adopt incremental increases in both fines and traffic points for all violators;
* Establish specified time periods for traffic points to remain on the records for these offenses;
* Require every non-contesting violator to appear in person to pay fines at some kind of ticket window.
In addition, the local governments would be urged to step up enforcement of traffic-light laws, especially at selected "problem intersections," and to develop public campaigns emphasizing the seriousness of the offense and warning about the crackdown.
We recommend a unanimous COG vote for this proposal so it can be considered with urgency and support by every member government in the region. As it stands, Greater Washington's intersections are war zones -- and law-abiders are losing. The message should get out that things are going to turn around, with the force of a new and stronger law.