WASHINGTON - D.C. leaders want drivers to slow down, and they’ve adopted new legislation to punish those who don’t.
The D.C. Council unanimously approved a bill to strengthen the consequences for dangerous drivers and those who fail to pay fines for traffic violations Tuesday. Those drivers will now face harsher penalties and could even be subject to civil lawsuits from the District’s Attorney General.
The Strengthening Traffic Enforcement, Education, and Responsibility Act of 2024 ("STEER Act") was introduced by Councilmember Charles Allen. It would add teeth to the District’s Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) camera program and close loopholes after someone is arrested for drunk driving.
The bill passed after a year with 52 traffic deaths, an increase from 35, with hundreds more experiencing major injuries from a crash.
Allen says last year, District ATE Cameras issued more than 57,000 tickets for vehicles traveling 20-30 mph over the speed limit, more than 180,000 tickets for vehicles going 15-20 mph over and more than one million tickets for cars going 11-15 mph over.
"Dangerous driving is far too common in every DC neighborhood. It’s obvious right now that a significant number of drivers do not fear accountability for speeding, driving recklessly, or driving drunk. And why should they? Nothing about their experience tells them there are consequences," said Allen, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment.
"That’s about to change now that the Council has spoken clearly. After extensive public testimony and oversight, the bill approved today will create real, commonsense accountability measures to reduce speeding and reckless behavior in our neighborhoods and close loopholes blocking accountability," he continued in a statement.
Under the newly passed bill, D.C. would have the authority to boot and tow vehicles repeatedly caught speeding by cameras.
The bill would also establish a point system for drivers who speed and if a vehicle accumulates 10 points in a six-month window, it immediately becomes eligible for booting and towing.
The system gives drivers two points for speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, three points for 16-19 mph over and five points for 20+ mph over the limit. Reckless driving is five points and aggravated reckless driving is 10 points.
Under the bill, a new Intelligent Speed Assistance Program would allow for "speed governors" — devices that can prevent drivers from exceeding a certain speed — to be installed for drivers whose license was suspended or revoked because of excessive speeding or reckless driving.
The STEER Act also grants new authority for the District’s Attorney General to go after dangerous drivers, whether in D.C. or out-of-state, in civil court if they have a large balance of unpaid moving violations.
"We must redouble our efforts to crack down on dangerous drivers who put pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers at risk," DC Attorney General Brian Schwalb said. "The STEER Act would provide the Office of the Attorney General with critical new authority to hold drivers who flout the law accountable, and I applaud Councilmember Allen for advancing this bill, which would be a major step toward improving traffic safety across the District."
Mayor Muriel Bowser and Congress would still need to sign off on the legislation before it becomes law.