The bulk of offenders are from Maryland and Virginia, since there’s typically no downside to ignoring violation letters from the District. City officials said there is broad resistance to paying tickets from speed- and red-light cameras.
“If you don’t even have to pay it, everybody can just do what they want without consequence,” said D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. “If there’s no likelihood — or very little likelihood — you’ll be caught, what’s to make you change your ways?”
When an officer pulls someone over for speeding or another moving violation in the Washington region, local jurisdictions are bound by reciprocity agreements to share information and hold drivers to account, which can lead to fines or driver’s licenses being revoked. The agreement doesn’t apply to automated tickets.
A regional transportation planning body made up of local governments recently began trying to nudge the District, Maryland and Virginia toward dealing with the disconnect.
The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, which includes representatives from more than 20 cities and counties, this month called on D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to work toward an agreement to enforce automated tickets issued in neighboring jurisdictions.
Given high numbers of road deaths and injuries, enforcement is key to “communicate that there will be consequences for dangerous driving behaviors,” according to the Dec. 16 letter. That strategy has been undercut by the current system, according to the letter.
The letter calls on the mayor and two governors to create a safety task force to work toward an agreement that would cover automated citations. It also noted that enforcement tools are “evolving differently in each jurisdiction” and that an agreement “should prioritize enforcement for citations that are most directly tied to road safety.”
While the District has relied heavily on automated enforcement — and fines for the worst offenders have reached $400 or $500 — Virginia’s legislature limits its use. Last year, lawmakers in Richmond allowed state and local law enforcement to use speed cameras in school-crossing zones and highway work zones, with a maximum fine of $100.
The District has hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of outstanding fines at stake, which could prove challenging for neighboring politicians who don’t want to appear to be doing the District’s bidding, city officials said.
Cheh said safety should be the emphasis, adding that the city could consider reducing fines or making other changes to draw support from neighboring states to ensure consequences for reckless motorists.
“We don’t need those high fines to enforce those rules. What we need is the enforcement of those rules,” Cheh said. “It shouldn’t be a revenue-raising mechanism.”
Lax enforcement within the District is another complication.
Inside the city’s borders, District officials can lock a bulky orange boot on the wheel of out-of-state cars with outstanding speed-camera and other tickets until payments are made. But city officials said such work is limited, both because of staffing and because such actions have not been a high priority.
The District’s Department of Public Works has four workers who apply the boots, one person who makes repairs, a boot release worker, a supervisor and two administrative personnel, according to the agency.
More than 13,000 motorists were ticketed this year for driving at least 21 mph over the speed limit, according to District speed-camera data on vehicles with multiple unpaid violations. Another 49,000 repeat offenders were cited for speeding 16 to 20 mph over the limit.
Neighboring states pointed to the complexities of making changes to enforcement.
In a statement, Northam’s office cited a collaborative relationship among the three neighbors, but underscored that Virginia law allows local jurisdictions to require payment for tickets issued in Maryland and the District only if issued by officers, not cameras.
“While the Governor supports a thorough review of this issue, the General Assembly and incoming Administration will need to enact authorizing legislation before any agreement,” according to the statement. A representative for Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) did not respond to a request for comment.
Maryland supports establishing the safety task force, according to a statement from the Maryland Department of Transportation that said the group should consider which violations would be covered by a future agreement on enforcement across state lines. Maryland officials said a task force should also consider equity issues and how effective a reciprocity agreement would be at reducing crash deaths and injuries.
MDOT also pointed to a challenge: Speed-camera and other automated tickets are applied to the vehicle, while the vehicle’s owner is responsible for the violation.
“Because the camera doesn’t have the ability to determine who was driving, the adjudication process is different” from those for “moving violations given by an officer to a specific driver,” which MDOT said raises legal issues that need to be resolved.
Lucinda M. Babers, the District’s deputy mayor for operations and infrastructure, said the letter is a start toward meeting “our objective of ticket payment reciprocity for all ticket types.”
The regional transportation board’s chairman, Charles Allen, who also serves as a D.C. Council member, said the objective is not to push the city’s two neighbors into increasing their use of automated enforcement.
“We’ve already agreed that speeding is a violation, that speeding is dangerous,” Allen (D-Ward 6) said, citing an existing driver’s license compact that includes the three jurisdictions and can lead to points for unsafe driving in one jurisdiction carrying over to another. “If we’ve already agreed it’s a violation, don’t we want to have people pay for that ticket that’s been issued?”
Allen said his D.C. constituents should face similar consequences if driving dangerously in Maryland or Virginia. Representatives from the two states declined to say how often such issues arise with District drivers.