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On a Sunday afternoon in early March, Maureen Minehan was unloading a carton of eggs from her beige Ford Contour in front of her house on Garfield Street NW whenbang!a sudden shudder rocked the car. Minehan looked with dread toward the driver’s side of the vehicle. “My immediate reaction,” recalls Minehan, “was that my husband was dead.”
Seconds before, Minehan’s husband had been standing on the driver’s side of the car, taking groceries out of the back seat. A passing taxicab had slammed into the open door, narrowly missing him. The door crumpled. The side-view mirror of the taxi landed inside the Contour.
Shortly thereafter, Officer Ronald Faunteroy of the Metropolitan Police Department arrived on the scene, studied the two cars, and questioned the cab driver. Two hours later, Faunteroy issued Clarence Barnard Stephen, a Yellow Cab employee, a ticket for reckless driving.
Then he turned to Minehan and issued her a ticket, toofor reckless use of a car door.
Opening a car door into traffic is verboten in the District, punishable by a $25 fine. Title 18, Chapter 22 of the municipal code states: “No person shall open a door of a vehicle on the side where traffic is approaching unless it can be done without interfering with moving traffic or pedestrians and with safety to himself or herself and passengers.”
“I was in disbelief,” recalls Minehan.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Joe Gentile recalls how he handled similar situations in the past. “If I saw someone opening their car door into traffic, I’d issue them a warning,” says Gentile. “If there was an accident, I’d write them a ticket. But that was 35 years ago.”
Minehan believes that unless you open your car door directly into the path of a moving vehicle, you shouldn’t get a ticket. “I think [the law] should be modified to reflect the reality of residential streets,” says Minehan.
The reality is that the 3100 block of Garfield Street remains a perilous place to park. The two-way street cuts through a sleepy residential neighborhood in Woodley Park. Minehan says that the street is a popular shortcut, especially for cabdrivers. They pick up passengers at the Marriott hotel on Woodley Road NW and pass through Garfield Street en route to Wisconsin or Massachusetts Avenue.
At the western end of Minehan’s block, a stoplight regulates the intersection of Garfield Street with Cleveland Avenue and 32nd Street. On three separate occasions since August 2001, hit-and-run drivers have crashed into one of Minehan’s vehicles, parked along Garfield Street. Minehan attributes the rash of accidents to reckless drivers who see the stoplight from afar and race down the straightaway of Garfield Street hoping to beat the red.
Minehan says that the accident has convinced her that the city should do more to enforce speed limitsnot door limitson Garfield Street. She intends to contest the ticket “on principle.” CP