- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2016

The head of the District’s Transportation Department admitted at a D.C. Council hearing Friday that he couldn’t provide evidence that increased traffic fines decreased speeding, but he said none of the newly proposed fines, including a $1,000 speeding ticket, was set in stone.

DDOT Director Leif A. Dormsjo said there’s no conclusive research that shows fines reduce speeding or transportation-related deaths caused by speeding.

“There’s no calculator that has been developed that can create a clear output for us,” Mr. Dormsjo said. “There’s not an airtight scientific formula.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser recently introduced a proposal to raise traffic fines as part of her “Vision Zero” plan to eliminate transportation-related fatalities in the District by 2024. The DDOT initiative includes a proposed fine of $1,000 for motorists traveling 25 mph over the posted speed limit. The current fine for the speeding offense is $300.

Several residents said high fines will be unfairly burdensome for low-income residents and recommended an income-based fine structure.

Ericka Taylor, a District resident and representative for the DC Fair Budget Coalition, said low-income residents could face the decision of whether to pay their fine or pay for food and rent. And that could create a domino effect, she said, because traffic fines double after 30 days and could lead to the loss of a driver’s license.

“Then they’re forced to either drive illegally or lose their job,” she said.

Ms. Taylor said Sweden is using a tiered fined system as part of its plan to reduce traffic fatalities.

“Fining the city’s lowest income residents into poverty isn’t part of Sweden’s plan and shouldn’t be part of ours,” Ms. Taylor said.

John Townsend, who spoke on behalf of AAA’s Mid-Atlantic division, called the proposal of higher fines “draconian.”

“All of these fines are so expensive that most of us in this room couldn’t pay them in 30 days,” Mr. Townsend said.

Supporters of the plan, mostly cycling and pedestrian advocates, said more speed cameras in conjunction with higher fines would be the best route to more safer streets.

The speed cameras would be a good way of fining speeders without having certain drivers unfairly targeted, Moira McCauley, who spoke on behalf of All Walks DC, a pedestrian safety advocacy group.

“Increasing speeding cameras reduces speeding without discriminating,” Ms. McCauley said.

Tamara Evans, advocacy director for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said she thinks the fines will work as long as they’re enforced.

“A high likelihood of getting caught is important,” Ms. Evans said.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and chair of the Transportation Committee, questioned Ms. Bowser’s plan last week.

“No one is disputing that we should have penalties for these behaviors and that they should be severe,” Ms. Cheh said at the Friday hearing. “But there has to be correlations for traffic fines and reduced fatalities.”

But whether the higher fines will end up in the final plan is still up in the air.

Mr. Dormsjo said that Ms. Bowser does have concerns about the $1,000 fine and the plan overall should be in congress with what residents support.

“It’s tough to speak to a culture of safety of we are out of line with what people want,” he said. “We’re not digging in on that measure or any other measure. It’s not written in stone.”

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