No more doubled fines? DC considers bill to cut late penalties on unpaid traffic tickets

- The D.C. Council is considering a bill that would cut procrastinating motorists a break on their late tickets.

Right now, if you don’t pay your D.C. traffic or parking ticket within thirty days, your fine doubles. A $30 expired meter fine doubles to $60, a $150 red light ticket becomes $300, and a speed camera fine skyrockets to $600. It doesn’t matter if you’re only one day late, the same penalty applies.

The new bill would cut the doubled fines, but only for D.C. motorists. Drivers from Virginia, Maryland, and other places would be out of luck, and still stuck with the doubled fines. The cut would apply to tickets issued by automated traffic enforcement systems like speed cameras and for tickets involving parking and other non-moving violations.

Forty-one percent of tickets in the District weren’t paid last year. The District processed 2.6 million photo-enforced and parking tickets in FY 2016, and drivers in the District racked up almost $300 million in tickets last year.

Critics of the current late penalty say it hits poor and disadvantaged D.C. residents. They also say that the due date is not long enough and that there isn’t enough time to pay tickets. The trick is that the clock starts at the time the ticket is issued—residents can lose days as a mailed ticket is en route, and the argument is that residents don’t have enough time to come up with the money and send it in time for officials to receive it. The check could be on the way before the thirty days ends, but if officials don’t receive it by the deadline, the fine doubles automatically.

"The doubling of traffic fines after a 30-day deadline does not improve traffic safety or engender compliance with traffic laws one whit," said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic's Manager of Public and Government Affairs. "The fear of doubling fines forces some drivers to pay tickets they feel they didn't deserve. But by doing so, they forfeit the right to fight or appeal the fine."

Lucinda Babers, the Director of the District DMV, warns residents not to pay any portion of the ticket if they want to contest just the late penalty: "If you receive a ticket which doubles (which means a penalty has been added), and you wish to contest just the penalty amount, you should not pay the original fine amount. Payment of any portion of the ticket is an admission of liability and prevents you from adjudicating any part of the ticket."

The bill, dubbed “The Traffic and Parking Ticket Penalty Amendment Act of 2017,” was introduced last week to the D.C. Council by Councilmember Trayon White of Ward 8, and was referred to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

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