- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Motorists who flouted D.C. traffic laws, then left their tickets in the glove box will get a reprieve in coming months.

The city’s Department of Motor Vehicles is temporarily allowing people hit with parking and moving violations before Jan. 1, 2010, to pay the original fines without late fees.

The amnesty period — the city’s first since 2001 — begins Monday and runs until Jan. 27, city officials said Wednesday.

Agency Director Lucinda Babers said the city collects about $142 million a year in traffic and parking tickets but loses out on millions more, in part because fines are doubled after 30 days, which makes motorists decide some tickets are just too expensive to pay.

Officials say the 4 million outstanding tickets eligible to be paid under the six-month program represent roughly $245.7 million in collectible money. However, they expect to collect $6.3 million of that.

Motorists who received a moving violation and did not pay the fine will not be assessed points if they pay the fine under the amnesty program.

The District’s biggest traffic scofflaws tend to be from Maryland, Ms. Babers said.

Maryland drivers account for 37.6 percent of unpaid tickets, compared with 22.7 percent from Virginia and 17.4 percent from the District.

City motorists typically pay more promptly because they cannot re-register their vehicles with unpaid tickets.

Drivers from the rest of the country are responsible for the remaining 22.3 percent of outstanding tickets, Ms. Babers said.

“I can tell you without a doubt the majority of people who receive tickets are Maryland residents,” she said.

And why is that?

“Well, because they illegally park in the District,” quipped Ms. Babers at the mayor’s weekly press conference, eliciting laughter.

Onak Wiachai, a Maryland resident parking downtown Wednesday afternoon, agreed with the amnesty program, saying it was a good idea because she’s seen friends struggle with unpaid tickets.

“It’s too much,” she said.

Others complain that the city’s 17,000 parking meters and speed and red-light cameras are essentially another tax on residents, considering the cameras are supposed to be safety devices yet are often placed where few accidents occur.

The city has 52 red-light camera locations. It also has 10 fixed-speed cameras and about six dozen speed-enforcement zones.

Among the complaints about parking is that tickets can cost as much as $100 for having a vehicle in a rush-hour zone and that meters are often broken — leaving too few spaces for commuters.

The city’s decision last year to put the meters operational on Saturday and increase rates to as much as $2 an hour has also drew complaints.

Ms. Babers said the agency picked the January 2010 cutoff date for amnesty because old debts are always the hardest to collect.

“We have quite an aggressive collection agency, and we tend to get most of the more recent monies,” she said. “It is the tickets that are old … that we need additional incentive in order to receive some of those funds.”

Violators can pay their fines online, over the phone or in person at DMV Adjudication Services at 301 C St. NW.

Motorists who made payments before the Aug. 1 start date are not eligible for a refund. Those who do not pay old tickets during the amnesty period will have their penalties restored to the balance.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said the downtown neighborhoods he represents have some of the heaviest traffic in the District.

“My ward has always been very strong on enforcement,” said Mr. Evans, chairman of the council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue.

Still, he was a bit skeptical about the program, saying the city used to hire companies that would take delinquents tickets in bulk, track down the motorists and reduce the fines by only about 20 percent.

Mr. Evans said he is not sure why the District is taking a 50 percent cut on doubled fines when it could get more “if you turn them over to a company that does this for a living.”

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