Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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At-Large Councilmember Christina Henderson tweeted a screenshot Monday of the tickets one District driver has racked up: 245 tickets with a total of $32,150 in fines.

“Excuse my language but what in the absolute eff?!?!” she tweeted. “These aren’t parking tickets. We have a serious problem here.”

Henderson’s example is just a drop in the bucket of the nearly half a billion dollars D.C. is owed in traffic fines. Over 3,000 drivers have more than 20 tickets; 500 drivers have more than 30 tickets, according to Ward 3 Councilmember and chair of the transportation committee Mary Cheh. D.C. has the justification to boot 633,000 vehicles for speeding or parking violations, which means the driver has two or more tickets that haven’t been paid for 60 days. Yet, it isn’t happening. D.C. Department of Public Works Acting Director Christine Davis and Deputy Mayor Lucinda Babers appeared in front of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment to explain why.

“Drivers who speed, run red lights or stop signs, and otherwise behave dangerously behind the wheel pose a direct threat,” Cheh said during the hearing yesterday. “A critical strategy for curbing those behaviors is ensuring that tickets are enforced.”

That “direct threat” is showing its face as D.C. deals with a 13-year high in road deaths this year.

A few reasons why they are so far behind:

  • Davis said budget reductions over the years have shrunk booting teams. There are currently only two teams of two employees putting boots on vehicles, and they can only boot 50 cars a day. It would take 25 years to boot every eligible vehicle at the current rate.
  • Davis said DPW has limited space for towed vehicles and only 268 boots. She said DPW is looking for a new space to store cars, and has had funding since October to add three new employees.
  • Out of the 633,000 vehicles eligible for booting, Davis said only about 44,000 have D.C. tags. Out-of-state tags account for an overwhelming number of boot-eligible vehicles in part because D.C. does not have reciprocity agreements with Maryland and Virginia. Babers said discussions with officials in those states about bringing consequences for out-of-state drivers have stalled. About 336,000 Maryland vehicles have outstanding tickets. Virginia drivers account for about 168,000, with the rest representing other states. 

Booting routes are focused on wards 1 through 6 while 7 and 8 have periodic sweeps but aren’t regularly patrolled due to a lower number of people with unpaid fines. However, Davis said a person who is “good at removing boots” has been helping drivers escape punishment in wards 7 and 8 for at least 20 years. 

Additionally, the D.C. Council voted in 2018 to stop suspending licenses for drivers with unpaid fines. While this addressed equity issues, Babers said it removed a crucial stick to prevent reckless driving. She suggested reinstating license suspensions for camera tickets.

“The question should really be whether it’s an equity issue when everybody can drive the speed limit. Everybody can drive safely,” Babers said. “It has nothing to do really with your … income level, your race.”

“These drivers are still driving on our streets behaving recklessly, presumably because they know DPW is doing almost nothing to catch them,” Cheh said. “True enforcement is critical to reducing dangerous driving behaviors.”

She later added: “I don’t see the urgency or the commitment or the attention at all sufficient with the problem that we have in there.”

Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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