Tuesday, August 28, 2012

BAC SEE Committee 8/14/2012 - Automated Enforcement

How should DC’s automated traffic enforcement program be designed to maximize roadway safety while minimizing public perception that the program is unfair, punitive, or designed to maximize revenue? CMs Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh are co-chairing a task force to recommend legislative changes to the automated (camera) traffic enforcement program to better meet this goal. At the recent meeting of the BAC Safety, Education, and Enforcement Committee, a number of possibilities were discussed. 

Opinions on various proposals varied widely, however, the committee had broad agreement on two ideas which we decided to prioritize: 1) improving the justification of locations based on safety issues and 2) graduated fines for initial offenses (e.g., first one or first one at a particular location). Note that the table includes several ideas with comments which were not discussed at the meeting (because they have been raised since the meeting).

Priority ProposalsComments
Justification of locations:
1) Safety study
2) Public data*
Problem: Right now, MPD does speed studies to see how cameras reduce the amount of speeding at particular locations. In addition, they place cameras based on a combination of resident requests, history of accidents/fatalities, and other site-specific traffic pattern issues. However, residents sometimes argue that speed limits at a location have been set improperly or that there are no safety hazards at the particular location.

Recommendation 1: MPD and DDOT should study accidents and perception of roadway safety at proposed camera locations, and provide public justification for their placement of cameras based on safety issues, not just speeding. They should post the reasoning behind particular camera locations on their website. Update: Lisa Sutter of MPD has stated that their new website will include a map of automated enforcement locations with reasoning behind their placement.

Recommendation 2: As a way to bolster this, all crash data should be made publicly accessible so citizens can verify safety records at camera locations. In addition, MPD should generally focus their enforcement resources at locations with safety issues.
Graduated fines (warnings)Problem: Right now, it is possible that a driver could get a very expensive ticket (or even multiple tickets) without realizing that they had been caught or without realizing the speed limit on a particular road. This is true because although driving up to 10mph over the speed limit carries a $75 fine, in practice this ticket is never given, so the lowest fine given out is $125, and since tickets come in the mail, it is possible to get several tickets before the first one arrives. MPD publishes the location of cameras and allows a “warning period” for the installation of a new camera during which time people are mailed tickets without a fine. In addition, photo enforcement signs are placed including a neon banner on the normal speed limit signs. However, the 30 day warning period may not help occasional drivers or drivers new to an area.

Recommendation 1: We never want to "surprise" people with fines - we want to give them an opportunity to change their behavior first. Fines should be lowered for the initial offense. The first offense should carry a smaller fine so that drivers never get an extremely large fine for their first offense.
Other Possible ProposalsComments
More warnings:
1) Speed readout signs*
2) Warning tickets 5-10mph over the limit*
Problem: same as above “graduated fines”. MPD could use more alternative means to warn drivers about speed so that tickets are not a surprise.

1) In addition to increasing the number of cameras, MPD should increase the number of speed readout signs. While these signs don’t impose fines, they do cause drivers to think about their speed. Question: does research show these signs are effective or not?

2) MPD could send “warnings” with minimal fines to cover postage and handling such as $1-$2 for speeding 5-10 over the limit. Thus a driver would not be surprised if they receive a ticket for going >11 mph over the limit.
Income-dependent issues
1) Graduated fines by income
2) Fine alternatives such as roadway safety class*
Problem: Traffic fines serve as a deterrent against speeding. However, the same amount of money might not be noticable to a wealthy person whereas it could create economic hardship for a low-income person.

1) If possible, make fines income-dependent so that the deterrence factor is more even across people while not creating financial hardship.

2) As an alternative to paying a fine, allow people to take a safety course (either online or in-person). This could not be repeated many times, but could take care of initial offenses. It would be important that this be a high-quality course.
Fine reductions (immediate)No one likes to pay fines. If it is possible to decrease fines without sacrificing safety, then we should do it. We need expert information to say how the level of the fine affects the effectiveness of automated enforcement at improving safety.

However, lowering fines on its own won’t change peoples’ minds who think that automated enforcement isn’t focused on safety.
Fine reductions (after camera installation)Overall deterrence of speeding will be improved as cameras become more widespread people may stop attempting to memorize the particular locations.
Dedication of fines to road safety activitiesIn the past, roadway safety efforts have sometimes been hampered by a lack of resources. This includes: funds to purchase cameras, funds to run roadway safety classes (such as classes for children), funds to make roadway improvements and funds to hire dedicated traffic enforcement officers.

However, creation of dedicated funds could lead to more bureaucracy and unnecessary difficulty in managing funds.
Separation of fine discussions from budgetWhen DC has a budget deficit, there might be a temptation on the part of politicians to raise traffic enforcement fines as a way of filling that budget gap. Changing fines should never be done as a way to fill a budget gap. Instead, fines should be changed on the basis of safety considerations - where there are new research findings in how to improve safety, or new safety problems (e.g., texting while driving wasn’t a problem before cell phones, etc).

Recommendation: Fines should not be changed as part of the budget process, but only during a separate oversight process for roadway safety.
Inflation-pegged finesWhether or not enforcement fines are lowered or raised, it is important to keep the relative size of the fine the same over time. The fines should be automatically raised or lowered to keep pace with inflation/deflation, and then rounded to the nearest multiple of $25. This way, the Council will not need to specifically discuss raising fines on an annual basis.
* indicates the idea is new and was not discussed at the SEE Committee Meeting.

Add your comments to the various proposals about what you think would help improve safety the most while reducing perception that the automated enforcement program might be used to fill a budget gap.