4 bills aim to lessen burden of tickets on DC drivers

WASHINGTON — The D.C. Council is considering ways to make it easier for drivers ticketed in the District to pay their fines.

The council is considering four bills, each filed at various points throughout the year, that could lessen the burden these fines have on drivers.

“The bills that we have in front of us deal with the payment of the fines,” D.C. councilmember Mary Cheh said at a joint public hearing Friday.

These fines can rise fast in D.C. if they are missed or payments aren’t made on time. Most double when they aren’t paid within 30 days.

Organizations like AAA Mid-Atlantic and the Legal Counsel for the Elderly — an affiliate of AARP — called these penalties excessive and say they do more harm than good, especially for low-income drivers.

“The doubling of fines in a 30 day period is intended to be punitive and draconian,” AAA Mid-Atlantic director of public and government affairs Tom Calcagni told the panel at the hearing.

D.C. administered over 2.7 million citations in fiscal year 2016 valued at over $299 million, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic. Nearly $24 million is still owed today by delinquent drivers on those 2016 fines.

“Few people have bulging wallets or a cash supply. The current draconian practice creates a proverbial ‘Catch-22’ for tens of thousands of motorists who can’t afford to pay their tickets on time,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, in a statement Thursday.

“Of the 2.7 million tickets issued by the city last year, 57.1 percent involved citations for parking violations, while automated traffic enforcement tickets comprised 39.9 percent of the ticket total. 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.”

Those who can’t pay the fine — or aren’t aware they had been cited — have these penalties snowball into unreasonable amounts. The groups that spoke at Friday’s hearing say many of the people who are unable to pay often lose their license because of these fines, which leads to other issues like being unable to get to appointments or even losing their job.

Cheh agreed.

“If they have fines they can’t pay and they double in 30 days and the fines are high and we don’t give them some way out, then what happens is it’s a cascade of bad effects which can include not having a car, not having a license, maybe even losing their jobs,” Cheh said at the hearing. “This is not the approach we should take.”

The four bills seek to offer some relief.

One bill introduced in March would eliminate penalties if a motorist fails to pay a fine within 30 days.

A second bill introduced in April would waive some parking infractions if the registered owner of a vehicle proves they were not notified about the ticket.

A third bill introduced in July would offer an amnesty program for D.C. residents who owe more than $1,000 in violations. The bill would require the resident to pay 60 percent of the fines and the rest of the balance would be waived.

A fourth bill introduced in September would establish a deferred payment plan for anyone who has at least $100 in delinquent debt because of parking or traffic violations. It would only allow for two deferred payment plans in a 12-month period.

“I don’t agree with all of the bills and all of their particulars, but they are aimed at this idea about giving people a fair notice and a full and fair opportunity to pay the fines or to have payment plans if that’s what could really work for them,” Cheh said.

The groups attending the hearing also agreed that these four bills are a step in the right direction for drivers in the District.

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