Six of 10 residents surveyed, who are also drivers in the District, say they oppose the proposal and two-thirds say they don’t think the fines will improve public safety.
The plan would create eight new penalties and increase fines on a dozen traffic offenses — in some instances doubling and tripling the current penalties. The most controversial of them is a proposal to issue $1,000 tickets to drivers going 25 mph over the posted limit. The proposal has drawn criticism from drivers and their advocates since it was introduced in December. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) even scolded her transportation team for the proposal and said some of the fines go too far.
The changes to the city’s fine structure have been proposed as part of Bowser’s Vision Zero plan to slash traffic deaths in 10 years.
Public opinions go deeper. About half of D.C. drivers say they think the District’s main reason for increasing the penalties is to raise revenue while only 21 percent said the primary reason is out of concern for safety. About 24 percent of drivers said both safety and revenue were the reasons.
The survey of 1,085 D.C. drivers was conducted during the last week of January by Public Policy Polling for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which has been a leading critic of the proposal. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
“Ironically, the goal of eliminating traffic deaths and injuries in the District, which AAA supports, has been overshadowed by a contentious proposal in the District’s Vision Zero plan to significantly raise traffic fines and fees,” AAA’s John B. Townsend II said, noting that the proposal would make District traffic fines the highest in the Washington metro area and the most expensive in the nation. “This survey reveals how skeptical and distrustful District residents are about the city’s motives in increasing traffic fines and fees.”
The survey found that resident don’t see higher fines as a deterrent to bad behavior. Sixty-six percent said they doubted the heftier fines would improve road safety, while only 25 percent of the respondents said they thought it would.
Research has not found a significant correlation between higher fines and changes in behavior, and city officials who support the higher fines say they know that.
“The academic research is inconclusive in the relationship between the fines and desired outcomes,” Leif Dormsjo, director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, said during a D.C. Council hearing last month.”High fines alone are not sufficient to achieve the behavioral changes we need.”
Respondents also opined on other issues of the road. Six of 10 drivers licensed in the District say they oppose a proposed change in city law that would allow bicyclists to roll through stop signs. The measure, part of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Act of 2015, is in response to demands from an increasing number of bicyclists in the city seeking greater protections and access to the road. If approved, the District would join a handful of jurisdictions nationwide that allow bicyclists to roll through traffic signs– when safe.
An overwhelming 82 percent of those surveyed said that enforcement of traffic laws should apply equally to drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. Many who have been critical of the Vision Zero fines have questioned why none were designed for pedestrians or bicyclists.
The 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.
City officials have said the plan is likely to change though they said higher fines are still likely. DDOT is reviewing the feedback it has has received on the proposal and is expected to issue a revised plan this spring.