Remember the $1,000 fine the District wanted to impose on drivers who exceed city speed limits by more than 25 miles per hour? The proposal is officially dead.
Now it will only cost you $500.
That’s one of several revisions to the District Department of Transportation’s plan establishing tougher penalties for traffic infractions to deter dangerous road behaviors– chiefly speeding. The new proposal sets more modest increases to current traffic fines, but in some cases still more than doubling penalties. It also adds new and higher fines for bicyclists and pedestrians.
If approved, the new rules could go into effect as early as this spring.
Under the revised proposal, going more than 25 mph over the posted limit on city streets could cost you $500, up from the current $300 fine; drivers going 25 mph over the limit on highways would face $400 tickets. Rolling through a right-turn-on-red will cost you $100, compared to the current $50; and the fine for overtaking another vehicle that is stopped at a crosswalk or intersection to give pedestrians the right of way will double to $500.
Among the proposed new fines for drivers: $100 for speeding near a recreation or senior center; failure to slow down and get out of the way for an ambulance, fire engine or police car responding to an incident; and for failure to yield to a bus reentering traffic.
“We have revised the rules to reflect the input we heard from the public and look forward to enhancing our efforts to address behaviors such as excessive speeding that we know cost lives,” DDOT Director Leif Dormsjo said in a statement.
The tougher penalties are part of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s “Vision Zero” strategy to eliminate traffic-related deaths by 2024. The original plan, unveiled in December 2015, drew criticism from motorists and advocates who derided the proposal as “arbitrary” and a “cash grab in the name of traffic safety.”
DDOT spent a year revising the plan, which addresses about 20 driving-related offenses — some brand-new and some increases of current penalties.
Several of the penalties relate to drivers interacting with pedestrians and bicyclists. The fine for hitting a cyclist would double to $150; failing to yield to a pedestrian while turning right on red would double to $100; and the fine for parking in a bike lane would increase to $150 from $65. The fine for swinging open a parked car door into the path of a cyclist or pedestrian would double to $50.
But even with the changes, some advocates for motorists remain concerned about the city’s motivation for the increased penalties.
“Many motorists may still be wondering if the proposed fines are more about revenue generation, than traffic safety,” said John B. Townsend II, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “In the end, the District will likely collect record revenues from traffic fines and fees driven by the implementation of the Vision Zero Action Plan. When the city takes in nearly $200 million in one year in traffic fines that suspicion will continue to exist.”
The proposal also addresses complaints from motorists that cyclists and pedestrians also should face consequences for traffic infractions. Among the new penalties for bicyclists: a $150 fine for cyclists who collide with a pedestrian crossing the roadway with the right-of-way, and a $100 fine for colliding with a pedestrian while riding a bicycle on a sidewalk. Riding with headphones or earbuds on both ears would cost $50.
Cyclists caught carrying objects, including handheld communication devices, which prevent them from keeping one hand on the handle bars will face a $50 fine, up from $25. Those caught speeding would face a $50 fine, up from $25.
Pedestrians will see some of the steeper penalties too. The fine for walking into the path of a vehicle or colliding with a vehicle without the right-of-way will increase 10-fold to $100; the same for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle.
Supporters of heftier penalties see the measures as key to slowing motorists on roads shared by throngs of people on two wheels and on foot, and a tool to ending traffic fatalities. But some backers are questioning the city’s shift to also targeting cyclists and pedestrians.
“The fines should be reserved for the road users who can do the most damage— drivers who are distracted or impaired,” said Moira McCauley, an advocate with the nonprofit group All Walks DC. “The focus shouldn’t be on fining pedestrians.”
Transportation officials and advocates cite an uptick in traffic fatalities in the last few years, after years of decline. The increase coincides with more incidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists, they said.
Greg Billing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said the measures should be focused on preventing people from being killed or seriously injured.
“What is going to keep drivers from killing themselves or other people who are walking or biking? Everything else is a little bit of a distraction.” he said. “By adding a bunch of tickets that are not related to reducing those problems we are loosing focus of the goal, which is vision zero.”
In testimony to the D.C. Council last year, Dormsjo defended the proposal — including the proposed $1,000 speeding ticket— saying the enhanced penalties are key to leveling the playing field in a region where the District’s “fine regime is the weakest.” He said at least nine other states have a maximum speeding fine of at least $1,000.
The proposed $500 fine for speeding more than 25 mph over the posted limit is more in line with jurisdictions across the country. Nationally, the median fine for the most dangerous speeders is $500. Meanwhile in Maryland, a driver who commits the same infraction can be charged up to $500. In Virginia, it’s a $250 ticket — and potentially a reckless driving charge that carries a penalty of $2,500 and jail time.
DDOT will decide whether to approve the current proposal after a public comment period that ends March 6. If more changes are needed, the draft could be revised again. Once the plan is approved, officials say they will announce when the new fines will go into effect.
Read the proposed rules here.
DDOT will be taking feedback on the new proposed rules through March 6. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent to Alice Kelly, Manager, Policy and Legislative Affairs Division, Office of the Director, District Department of Transportation, 55 M Street, SE, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20003.