In interviews with News Channel 8 and ABC 7, Bowser said Tuesday that the controversial proposal to significantly raise traffic fines didn’t get her “stamp of approval” and that “it is up for discussion” whether an increase in fines will be part of her efforts to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries.
The D.C. Department of Transportation unveiled the new traffic fines on Dec. 11, touting them as part of Bowser’s Vision Zero strategy to eliminate traffic-related deaths by 2024. The proposal calls for significant increases to a dozen traffic offenses and the creation of eight new penalties.
In response, the D.C. Council’s chair of the transportation committee questioned whether the mayor has authority to raise the fines and scheduled an oversight roundtable next week to discuss the plan that has ignited strong criticism from drivers and their advocates. Many say the proposal isn’t about safety but raising revenue. They have called the proposed fines “draconian and arbitrary” and “exorbitant.”
“I don’t think that we are going to get to $1,000 tickets,” Bowser told ABC 7’s Chris Papst. “You want fines to discourage behavior, but you don’t want fines to be so big that nobody pays them and you create other problems.”
The DDOT proposal sets new fines at : $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; and $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 go up from the current $65 to $200 for private cars and $300 for commercial vehicles. Swinging open a parked car’s door into the path of a cyclist would cost $100 instead of $25.
AAA Mid-Atlantic, which represents thousands of area drivers, has said the higher fines would place a financial burden on low- and modest- income drivers. Spokesman John Townsend said Tuesday the plan has also obscured the mayor’s Vision Zero plan.
“We live in a city that issued more than 5.1 million tickets in a 30-month period, and raised nearly half a billion dollars,” he said. “Is it any wonder that people are skeptical this is not about anything but revenue?”
Townsend said AAA is not aware of any other Vision Zero programs across the country that includes higher traffic penalties.
“This is what the District always does,” he said. “It is part of its DNA.”
DDOT officials have said the increased penalties would target drivers who endanger public safety.
“Is it appropriate to get to $1,000? Other jurisdictions in the country have done that so we wouldn’t be the first in the country to do that,” D.C. Department of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo said earlier this month. He said the city’s fines are among the “weakest” and the increase in fees are necessary.
“We can’t have the weakest regime in the region,” Dormsjo said. “The point is we’ve got to do something.”
DDOT Spokesman Terry Owens said Tuesday that the agency has said all along that “the fines being discussed are proposals, and that the final product would be influenced by public input and support.”
The proposal, he said, was the result of a broad review that took into account practices in other jurisdictions. It is in the midst of a 30-day public review period that wraps up January 9. The Council committee hearing is scheduled for January 8.
“The Mayor’s comments speak for itself,” Owens said in an email. “The Mayor expressed a concern about one of the fines in the Vision Zero Action Plan but more importantly reiterated her commitment to the initiative and her determination to make the streets of DC safe for everyone.”
Under the plan, the fine for going 25 over the speed limit would rise to $1,000 from the current $300. The city’s default speed limit is 25 mph, so city transportation officials and supporters of higher fines say driving 25 mph over the limit is unacceptable.
During an appearance Tuesday on NewsChannel 8’s “NewsTalk” program, Bowser said, “I told DDOT that they’re going to be the ones getting a ticket for getting ahead of me on that one.”
She added, “We’re going to look at what fines are appropriate. Nobody wants people running red lights in D.C., nobody wants people speeding in residential neighborhoods, and certainly nobody wants people driving recklessly, and we’ll come to the right fine amount.”
The mayor’s Vision Zero plan outlines several other measures to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries, including expanding the automated traffic enforcement and lowering speed limits. Her plan offers strategies on education, enforcement and engineering, as well as better use of data to prevent road deaths.
Abigail Hauslohner contributed to this report.