Just before the holidays, D.C. took two important steps toward implementing Vision Zero: Mayor Bowser released the Vision Zero Action Plan, and the D.C. Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles proposed rules that increase penalties for drivers who endanger public safety by violating traffic laws. The proposed rules are an important aspect of the Mayor’s Vision Zero initiative, which recognizes that increasing penalties to curtail dangerous driving is an essential part of the broader city-wide effort to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024.
WABA fully supports Mayor Bowser’s Vision Zero goal, including the proposed rules, which would crack down on speeding, failing to come to a complete stop before turning right on red, parking in bike lanes, dooring, and other dangerous behaviors that put road users at risk. Current penalties in the District for the most dangerous and egregious driving behaviors are generally far too low to serve as a deterrent, and in some cases are entirely non-existent.
The proposed rules would bring the District’s penalties in line with those of comparable U.S. cities. We support these proposed rules as an important part of a much broader action plan that includes improvements to enforcement, education, and street design.
Highlights of the proposed rules:
Proposed Change: Increased fines for speeding in excess of 25 mph from $300 to $1000, and the fine for criminal speeding from $300 to $500.
Why WABA supports it: Speed kills. According to AAA research, a person struck by a vehicle at 30 mph is 74 times more likely to be killed than a person struck by a vehicle going 25 mph.
The District’s default speed limit for residential streets is 25 mph. Between 2010 and 2014, more than half of traffic fatalities in the District occurred on streets with a 25 mph speed limit. A motorist traveling through a populated neighborhood at 25 mph over the speed limit is going 50 mph or faster. This is reckless, deadly behavior that should be punished severely.
Right Turns on Red
Proposed Change: Increased fines from $50 to $200 for failing to come to a complete stop at a red light before turning, failing to yield the right of way to vehicles or pedestrians, or violating a “No Turn on Red” sign.
Why WABA supports it: D.C. law requires drivers make a full stop and yield the right of way to pedestrians and other vehicles before turning right at a red light. In practice, drivers often do not come to a full stop behind the stop bar or even slow down before making a right turn on red. The requirement for drivers to stop at an intersection before making a right turn on red is so the driver can take the time to ensure that no pedestrians are in the crosswalk, because the pedestrian has the right of way. Drivers making unsafe turns at red lights also puts any drivers or bicyclists proceeding with the right of way on perpendicular streets at unacceptable risk.
Parking in a Bike Lane
Proposed Change: Increased fines for stopping, standing or parking in a bike lane, from $65 to $300 (for commercial trucks) or $200 (for all other motor vehicles).
Why WABA supports it: Drivers who block bike lanes, even temporarily, create hazards for all road users by forcing bicyclists to merge suddenly into a regular traffic lane. This all-too-common experience in the District discourages inexperienced or apprehensive riders from riding their bikes. It is currently illegal in the District to stop, stand, or park in a bike lane. However, the number of vehicles that continue to do so demonstrates that the current fine is not a sufficient deterrent, especially for commercial delivery drivers and taxis, for whom the fines for parking in bike lanes are treated as a cost of doing business.
Proposed Change: Increased fines for opening a vehicle door into traffic in a way that presents a danger to others, from $25 to $100.
Why WABA supports it: The act of opening a car door into the path of a bicycle or other vehicle is one of the most common causes of injuries to bicyclists. The best way to end dooring is to redesign our streets so that bike lanes are physically separated from traffic and parked cars. In the meantime, the penalty for creating this dangerous situation for cyclists should be strengthened.
The following chart summarizes the full set of proposed changes: (click the image to see a larger version)
We note that increasing fines in a vacuum will not lead to the types of safety improvements we need to end traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Traffic fines are an effective deterrent when the likelihood of enforcement is high. For Vision Zero to work, Metropolitan Police Department must increase traffic enforcement for all road behaviors that endanger others. All too often, enforcement is concentrated during targeted campaigns, but is lacking the rest of the time.
Moreover, the public must know what the fines are and where the money goes. Though not in the regulations, WABA supports directing funds raised from traffic safety violations towards Vision Zero projects, like enforcement, education and engineering— not the general fund. The city should post signs about traffic fines and use public education campaigns to communicate with road users.
Under these proposals, every road user has a choice: support Vision Zero by behaving like a responsible citizen who values human life, or support Vision Zero with fines. Anyone who wishes to avoid paying a fine may do so by simply obeying the law.
The D.C. Council will hold hearings on the proposed regulations on Friday, January 8, 2016 at 11am in room 500 of the Wilson Building. D.C. residents wishing to provide testimony at the hearing should contact Ms. Aukima Benjamin at 202-724-8062 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like help with your testimony, email a draft before 12pm Thursday to email@example.com, and we will be in touch.