- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is making it tougher for motorists to avoid traffic fines if they argue somebody else was driving when an automated camera clicked a photo of their vehicle running a red light or speeding.

Vehicle owners who submit an affidavit saying they weren’t driving at the time of a violation will have to turn over the driver’s license number of the person who had been behind the wheel so the city can fine that person, according to a new DMV proposal.

The District already requires that affidavits give up the offending driver’s name and address. Under the proposed rule, car owners looking to blame someone else for a ticket also will have to present the driver’s license information.

D.C. officials say they merely are closing a loophole that has allowed some motorists to avoid fines by submitting inaccurate or hard-to-track-down information. Anne C. Witt, director of the DMV, called the city’s current arrangement “a wide-open door.”

But the AAA Mid-Atlantic Motor Club is skeptical of the proposed rule, which the DMV published in the D.C. Register last month.

John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA, said that with the new rule, the city would be on its way to “creating a town of snitches.” He also said AAA has concerns about protecting confidential driver’s license information.

City officials point out that even without a license number, vehicle owners can fight a ticket in a traffic hearing — though they would not be allowed to submit an affidavit, DMV officials said.

“You can always get your day in court,” Miss Witt said.

Corey Buffo, general counsel for the DMV, said vehicle owners can argue somebody else had been driving, but that doing so in an affidavit as opposed to appearing at a hearing is “certainly more convenient for people.”

The proposed rule would apply only to those fines from automated red-light and speed cameras. The devices work by taking pictures of the license plates of vehicles whose drivers run red lights or speed along roads monitored by automated cameras. Mr. Buffo said the new rule could be enacted within two months.

A ticket for a red-light violation in the District is $75, and speeding violations can cost up to $200, depending on how fast the driver was going, according to the Metropolitan Police Department’s Web site (www.mpdc.dc.gov).

Red-light camera fines have totaled more than $29 million since 1999 and speed cameras have generated more than $65 million, the police department said.

Using the picture and a database, the city matches the license plate number with the registered tag owner to mail out a ticket. Unlike some other jurisdictions, such as California, the automated traffic cameras in the District do not take pictures of the drivers’ faces and the violations do not result in points on driver’s licenses, Miss Witt said.

“This [proposal] makes sure that if they say, ‘No, it wasn’t me,’ then I can find out who it really was,” she said.

“Think about people who want to circumvent the system and what you could do,” she added. “It left a loophole. … As the world changes you have to adjust with it, and this is an adjustment we’re having to make,” she said.

But Mr. Townsend said, “The real issue is one of invasion of privacy.”

“You’re saying now a driver has to provide confidential information on another driver.”

Mr. Townsend said a person’s license “is very personal” and that many people will be reluctant to turn over such information, particularly in an environment of heightened national security.

“You’re chipping away at the veneer of a community here,” said Mr. Townsend, adding that he was unaware of any other jurisdictions with a similar requirement. “I think it’s just more bureaucracy and more red tape.”

Miss Witt said the DMV would use the license numbers only to issue fines.

“We would not share that information with anyone else,” she said. “There are very specific laws about what we can do with that information.”

Officials in Maryland and Virginia said vehicle owners protesting automated traffic fines don’t have to submit driver’s license information about the person who was driving when a violation occurred.

Maryland traffic law requires “at least” a name and address, said Officer Julia Gilroy, spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Police Department.

Virginia tickets can be protested even if the vehicle owner can’t provide the offending driver’s name or address, said Officer Robert Kiddy, who runs the automated red-light program for the Fairfax County Police Department.

“I don’t know how you would get the driver’s license number,” Officer Kiddy said.

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