Drivers behaving badly: More than $375M in DC tickets in just 1 year

Drivers and others racked up more than $375 million on nearly 3 million D.C. parking and traffic tickets in the last budget year, but only paid about half of that to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The agency collected $172,490,068 from Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019 for 1,758,855 tickets paid before they were sent to collections. Collections agencies were later able to collect another $34,872,934.

At the end of the budget year, $177,387,958 remained outstanding on 971,913 citations.

Penalties on most tickets double if not paid within 30 days. Similar to past years, drivers fail to respond in time for about 47% of tickets. There are additional penalties after 60 days, but 16% of tickets remain outstanding on day 61, according to DMV data submitted to the D.C. Council.

The largest share of unpaid tickets were again issued to Maryland drivers, who owe $74,298,443. Virginia residents owe $44,745,936; D.C. residents owe $34,364,288; and people from other areas owe $23,979,291.

On parking tickets alone, $51,296,228 remained unpaid as of last Sept. 30 for 373,168 tickets, the DMV data showed.

The city generated $59,097,127 in total parking ticket and towing revenue in the budget year, separate information submitted by the Department of Public Works said, continuing a multiyear decline under that measure.

The total value of all citations processed by the DMV rose again last year though. The increase was more than $50 million, from $324,531,271 in the previous budget year to $375,916,124.

Ticket breakdown

In all, the tickets issued from Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019 include 1,467,876 parking citations; 91,194 moving violations issued by law enforcement officers; and 1,310,740 speed, red light or stop sign camera tickets sent through the mail, the DMV data showed.

Other points include:

  • 83,291 parking tickets out of the 166,855 that were challenged during the budget year were dismissed (18,119 remained pending as of Oct. 1).
  • 7,905 of the 33,972 moving violations challenged during the budget year were dismissed (7,534 remained pending).
  • 11,877 of the 98,133 photo citations issued were dismissed; 43,639 were upheld; and 53,998 remained pending. There appears to have been a spike in photo ticket complaints since Oct. 1, with 66,573 requests for adjudication filed between Oct. 1 and Jan. 5, and 7,690 cases already dismissed in that period. The proportion of final orders that are dismissing tickets remains relatively steady between 20% and 25% of cases that are challenged.

There was a significant increase in the number of tickets challenged by mail last year compared to a year earlier, but contesting a ticket online remains the most common method: 63,745 people contested citations in person; 106,797 by mail; and 140,821 through an online form during the past budget year. It took about three months on average to get an answer.

The city is also finishing up a small test of contesting tickets through an online chat, and hopes to have a new ticket processing system in place by the end of 2022 to replace the current 25-year-old setup.

The most common reasons tickets were dismissed were a successful legal defense on the merits of the ticket (31,218), or handwritten tickets that officers submitted after the legal deadline for processing (19,746).

The District also wrote off 368,286 tickets that had been outstanding for 15 years. The city similarly wrote off 355,040 tickets in the previous year under that policy.

For people challenging tickets, the most frequent reason they got a ticket dismissed was that they had actually properly paid for parking and could show a Park Mobile receipt (14,822).

Failure to display that receipt or feed the meter in a paid parking zone were the most common parking violations issued by the Department of Public Works during the budget year, totaling more than 300,000 tickets.

Residential parking rule violations, parking in a street cleaning zone and violating rush hour or similar no parking or standing rules were among the next most common issued.

About 3,500 tickets each were dismissed because car owners proved a valid exemption to requirements to register a car in D.C. after getting a “ROSA” ticket, or because the officer who wrote the ticket failed to show for the hearing, the DMV said.

For camera tickets, 3,436 tickets were dismissed because the photo was not clear and another 2,781 tickets were dismissed because multiple vehicles were shown in the photo.

Each of those numbers is a steep decline from the prior year, when 12,585 tickets were dismissed for multiple vehicles in the photo and 6,903 were dismissed due to a poor image.

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