Remarks: Roundtable on Traffic Safety Enforcement
Committee on Transportation and Environment, May 23, 2023
Thank you, Councilmember Allen, for holding this hearing today.
I’m glad we have such a robust witness list, and I appreciate you being very specific about the questions we’re looking to answer today.
I can understand why some of us are reaching a point of Vision Zero roundtable fatigue – I know lots of folks here today have been at scores of similar hearings in the last few years, even as progress on traffic safety continues to stall.
I think many of us held out hope that we could just design our way out of traffic violence. While a true multimodal, safe, and self-enforcing street is of course our gold standard, engineering does not work at the speed of the lives we’re out to save. I think there has been a rising awareness in the District that even if we had speed governors on every vehicle and raised crosswalks on every street, some element of traffic enforcement will always be needed.
I feel very strongly that our enforcement needs to be rooted firmly in accountability. I co-introduced Councilmember Henderson’s legislation last council period to levy license points for Automated Traffic Enforcement infractions, which would ground enforcement in the actual ability to have a license or use a vehicle, rather than just levying fines. I agree with Councilmember Allen that we need to be focused on behavior, not just unpaid tickets. Enforcement shouldn’t just be rooted in who can pay.
Unfortunately, whenever this Council has suggested measures to improve accountability in traffic enforcement, it has been met with resistance from elsewhere in government.
Most recently, there is the Mayor’s raiding of ATE revenue that was meant to fund the Vision Zero Omnibus and other critical traffic safety initiatives – completely severing the tie between enforcement and safety improvements and playing into the hands of ATE’s harshest critics.
But before that, when former Committee Chair Cheh proposed warnings be issued by speed cameras for drivers going at least 8 mph over the limit, or when the Council explored the idea of more immediate alerts that someone had been given an ATE citation, we were presented with astronomical cost estimates, making them all but unfeasible.
As chair of the committee on Public Works and Operations, I have been very focused on how our agencies compliment the work of this committee, particularly the Department of Public Works' parking enforcement work.
I was proud to be able to enhance DPW’s parking enforcement budget in this budget by adding close to 40 new parking enforcement, booting and towing positions.
However, as we’ve dug further into that work, it’s clear to me that DPW needs to have an actual prioritization process for its enforcement. (Thank you, Dr. Calder, for your mention of this in your testimony.)
Right now, all boot or tow-eligible vehicles are treated more or less the same. Two unpaid tickets are two unpaid tickets, whether they’re for unpaid parking meters or for aggressive driving and speeding. Clearly this isn’t addressing the issue at hand, especially with the limited boot and tow resources we have.
I want to make sure that DPW’s parking enforcement is reoriented with a safety focus by prioritizing moving violations, and potentially making some infractions immediately boot- or tow-eligible. This is especially true of counterfeit and long-expired temporary tags, which I hope to be able to introduce legislation on soon.
Unfortunately, all of the work on improving enforcement and accountability will have very little impact if we’re continuing to allow an environment where vehicles and drivers can avoid identification completely.
There was a great article series on “ghost tags” earlier this year that highlighted every facet of the issue, from the dealers to those who use fake tags. One thing it highlighted is that as we increase the use of automated enforcement, the demand for fake tags will only grow so long as weak regulations enable them to.
In preparing for this roundtable, my staff checked to see just how easy it would be to acquire a counterfeit temporary tag. Within 20 minutes of searching, you can be connected over Facebook with multiple sellers who will send you a 60-day tag in any state with very little information needed. While we didn’t actually acquire any of these tags, that exercise made it very clear that this is still an area operating with profoundly little scrutiny.
I’ll be in and out today due to appointments, but I want to thank you again CM Allen for holding this roundtable. I think this is a great use of the experience you had as former chair of the Judiciary Committee.
I look forward to delving more into these issues with you and our witnesses today.