Not surprisingly, a survey taken among more than 1,000 residents of D.C. showed that most residents have a major issue with the recent proposals lawmakers have made to increase traffic fines and, in some cases, nearly double them. Additionally, the District is installing more traffic cameras, particularly in school zones, where fines can reach up to $1,000 for speeding violations.
According to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the goal is to create safer streets, protect vulnerable residents (such as cyclists and pedestrians) as well as prevent dangerous driving on the roads. D.C. residents, however, have other things to say in regards to the proposals and the intentions behind them.
The Vision Zero Initiative originated in Sweden and was designed to reduce the number of traffic accident fatalities to zero. This initiative has been implemented in major cities, such as San Francisco, Boston and New York. According to Bowser, her action plan with Vision Zero covers public education, changing street engineering, expanding the city’s sidewalk, building new cyclist lanes and (you may have noticed) laying out policies for enforcement.
The recent proposal created eight new violations and increased the fines for more than 10 traffic offenses. For the most part, traffic fines more than doubled the price. For example, the proposed increased fine for hitting a cyclist increased from $50 to $500. A new violation fines drivers for $200 for rolling into a right turn on a red light. The most talked about proposed change is the increase in a speeding ticket issued to drivers going more than 25 miles per hour. The newly proposed fine will cost those drivers $1,000. And if a traffic camera does catch you speeding in a school zone, expect to see that $1,000 bill in the mail.
It would not be unusual for D.C. residents to call the Vision Zero changes “arbitrary” or, as the Washington Post reported, “a cash grab in the name of public safety.” Six out of 10 residents who were surveyed oppose the District’s proposal. Two-thirds of drivers say they do not believe fines will improve the overall public safety. Out of all the drivers surveyed, only 24 percent believe the proposals bear in mind the concern for public safety.
This survey of more than 1,000 D.C. drivers also showed that 66 percent of residents do not believe heavier fines will improve safety on the road. These residents may be right because research has yet to find a correlation between more expensive traffic fines and changes in driver behavior.
When asked whether stricter traffic enforcement laws should also apply to pedestrians and cyclists, more than 82 percent of District drivers said they strongly agree. Most critics of Vision Zero don’t understand why it was designed to only increase the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Well, it’s not. Vision Zero is supposed to reduce traffic deaths of all vehicle accidents. While Vision Zero has its critics in the D.C. area, increasing traffic fines is just the first step in decreasing vehicle fatalities. In time (if lawmakers stay true to their word), we can expect changes to D.C.’s infrastructure and walkways as well. Vision Zero has been thought to be effective in other major cities in decreasing pedestrian accidents as well as overall vehicle fatalities. Perhaps District residents need to give the initiative time to work.
Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot LLP is a personal injury law firm that helps victims of car crashes in the Washington, Virginia and Maryland areas.