That $1,000 fine District officials proposed for drivers who speed 25 mph over the limit may be coming to a swift end.
But if you drive fast, and get caught, it is still going to cost you.
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.
Leif A. Dormsjo, director of the Transportation Department, defended the proposed fine increases, but he said his office was looking at adjusting them.
“In all probability, we are going to make a change there. I don’t know the magnitude of that change,” Dormsjo said after a D.C. Council public hearing examining the proposal. “My starting point is that the status quo with regard to excessive speeding is unacceptable and any movement that we can make to discourage that type of conduct I think will be a win.”
Transportation officials had proposed creating eight new penalties and raising fines for a dozen traffic offenses — in some instances doubling and tripling the current financial penalties.
The harsher penalties are part of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s “Vision Zero” strategy to eliminate traffic-related deaths by 2024. But the plan has drawn criticisms, with many motorists and advocates deriding the proposal as “arbitrary” and a “cash grab in the name of traffic safety.”
Under the original proposal, drivers going 25 mph over the posted speed limit would face a $1,000 ticket, up from the current $300. Other fines include:
●$200 for rolling through a right turn on red.
●$500 for a driver whose car blocks traffic while sorting out an accident.
●$100 for speeding near a recreation or senior center.
●$500 for failure to slow down and get out of the way for an ambulance, fire engine or police car responding to an incident.
●$500 for failure to yield to a bus reentering traffic.
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 $65 to $200 for private cars and $300 for commercial vehicles.
At Friday’s hearing of the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment, about a dozen speakers — among them residents and advocates — raised concerns about the magnitude of the fines. Others said they support the harsher penalties as an effort to create a safety culture on city roads where 26 people were killed last year, including 14 pedestrians.
“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. She asked transportation officials to produce proof that higher fees deter speeding. Dormsjo said no academic research exists showing significant correlation between higher fines and fewer accidents.
“The academic research is inconclusive in the relationship between the fines and desired outcomes,” Dormsjo said. “High fines alone are not sufficient to achieve the behavioral changes we need.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
Bowser (D) last week assured residents that the District is unlikely to start handing out $1,000 tickets and distanced herself from the proposal, saying she had not given the plan her “stamp of approval” and that “it is up for discussion” whether fine increases will be part of her efforts to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries.
On Friday, Dormsjo said that the agency has listened to the mayor and residents’ comments. Since the proposal was made public last month, the agency has received 250 comments, many of them in opposition to the new rules, Dormsjo said.
Drivers in the city, however, are not off the hook. Higher fines are likely to be part of any final proposal.