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A police officer at 14th and K streets NW handed my colleague a flyer yesterday that could save her life. At least that was the idea. The flyer promotes D.C.’s Toward Zero Deaths campaign, aimed at the ambitious goal of eliminating all traffic deaths in the city.
According to the flyer, “Metropolitan Police are stepping up enforcement of pedestrian safety laws.” It goes on to enumerate the various infractions and the penalties culprits will incur:
I will say first of all that I have never seen or heard of a D.C. resident getting a ticket for jaywalking. (While my colleague was talking to the cop, a woman crossed on a red light right next to them; the cop jogged over to her for a gentle ribbing, but not a ticket.) Still, the point that jumps out at me is the last one. Yes, technically a police officer can arrest you for refusing to give your name if he’s writing you a ticket. But that’s not much of a threat, for the simple reason that he can’t compel you to give your real name. You’re not required to show identification for a civil infraction like jaywalking, and so you can simply make up a believable name and get off scot-free. Only a dolt or a do-gooder would ever actually pay a jaywalking ticket.
With an informed populace, this pedestrian flyer campaign won’t be particularly effective. The reverse side of the flyer, though, could have an impact: It informs drivers of the penalties they’ll face if they don’t follow the rules. And since you can’t drive a car without a license, those penalties are actually enforceable.