Reviews | Drivers with unpaid tickets who keep their license are not safe
The DC Council on Tuesday gave final approval to a invoice it would end the practice of preventing residents from renewing their driver’s license if they owe more than $100 in outstanding fines, including those for speeding and running red lights. The measure now falls to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). Despite the unanimous vote, she should veto it, if only to make clear the irresponsibility of the council’s action.
Supporters of the bill, introduced by Kenyan council member R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), argued that the practice of not allowing residents with outstanding traffic fines to renew their licenses has a negative impact on low-income, primarily black residents. But it is these same communities that have borne the brunt of road deaths. Analysis by The Post showed that low-income neighborhoods have had eight times more road deaths over the past eight years than the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Wards 7 and 8, which contain less than a quarter of Washington’s population, accounted for nearly half of its road deaths.
Drivers speeding on city streets and running red lights are a problem, and council members say there needs to be more enforcement. But how? DC police are discouraged from enforcing traffic laws. Instead, the city relies on traffic cameras. Yet the council’s latest action – it previously banned the practice of suspending the licenses of those with traffic fines – removes one of the last remaining tools. The threat of being started remains. “Make no mistake about it, we are sending a message that will tell people that they can run red lights, that they can significantly exceed the speed limit, and nothing will happen to them. They will not have to pay their tickets,” said board member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), “We’re inviting dangerous drivers in. We’re making our streets less safe.
Ms. Cheh, along with council members Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and Christina Henderson (I-At-Large), tried to narrow the bill to allow the city to withhold license renewals from those who have at least three unpaid tickets for certain violations, including speeding or running a red light. Pressure from self-proclaimed progressive groups who championed the bill as racial equity condemned the common-sense decision.
There is no doubt that losing one’s license imposes economic hardship. There is an easy way to avoid the fines that can lead to this: don’t go too fast and don’t run red lights. This is the message the council should have sent.