Photo by Gerard :-[ on Flickr.

In the budget released today, Mayor Gray has allocated money to keep many traffic camera fines, which DC recently lowered, from automatically rising again. He will also propose raising fines a tiny bit for moderate speeding and considerably for major speeding.

Last year, Councilmembers Tommy Wells, Mary Cheh, and Marion Barry introduced a bill to lower fines for speeding up to 20 mph over the limit, for blocking the box, turning right on red without stopping, and other violations. This responded to public sentiment that fines were too high and that camera tickets were an unfair cash cow for the District.

The original bill reduced fines to $50 for speeding up to 20 mph but left high fines ($200-250) for more speeding, on the logic that such egregious speeding is really reckless and clearly intentional. Phil Mendelson, however, pushed to modify the bill to use a linear scale instead of one with a sudden jump.

To lower the fines cost money, and the Council didn’t find enough money to lower all speed fines. Instead, the fine for speeding 11-15 mph over the limit only dropped from $100 to $92. It would have made more sense to use the limited funds to drop the lower-speed fines first instead of the higher-speed ones, but that’s not what happened.

They also only allocated money in the current fiscal year. Unless this budget said otherwise, the fines would have automatically jumped back up on October 1. Mayor Gray indeed allocated money to keep many of the lower fines, including ones for infractions besides speeding.

However, the administration proposes to set the fine for 11-15 mph and 16-20 mph over both at $100, said budget director Eric Goulet, and also raise the fine for speeding over 20 mph to $250 $200 and over 25 mph to $300. This is actually the same fine schedule Gray previously proposed when the Council was debating lowering fines.

Fines for running red lights did not go down in the last bill. That’s in part because AAA’s John Townsend actually argued in the task force for maintaining higher red light fines, though he’s since started spewing press releases complaining about them, despite his earlier stance.

Here is a table of the old fines, what Cheh and Wells proposed, what passed in the final bill both as the authorized level and the actual level that got funding, and what Gray is proposing for 2014.

Offense 2012 Cheh/








Speeding 1-10 mph (not enforced) $75 $50 $50 $50 $50
Speeding 11-15 mph $125 $50 $75 $92 $100
Speeding 16-20 mph $150 $50 $100 $100 $100
Speeding 21-25 mph $200 $200 $150 $150 $200
Speeding 26-30 mph $250 $250 $250 $250 $300
Running red light $150 $150 $150 $150 $150
Blocking the box $100 $50 $50 $50 $50
Not stopping at stop sign $100 $50 $50 $50 $50
Not yielding to pedestrian in crosswalk $250 $50 $75 $75 $75
Not stopping before right on red $100 $50 $50 $50 $50
Right on red when prohibited $100 $50 $50 $50 $50

The Budget Support Act is not yet available, so all of the information here is based on my conversation with Goulet, and I am checking to confirm their proposal for the never-enforced 1-10 mph violation and whether not yielding to a pedestrian is $50 or $75. I will update the post when that is available. Update: After talking to Goulet, I have updated the table and added a row for speeding 26-30 mph, whose fine will be rising from $250 to $300 as well.

I originally pushed for even lower fines from cameras, on the logic that the fine should just be high enough to deter speeding or other behaviors, and that it could buy peace. Unfortunately, we really don’t have good evidence about what deters speeding. Also, AAA has stepped up the pace of camera complaints and attack press releases, so it’s become clear that there’s no partner for peace over there.

Therefore, Gray’s proposal is a reasonable position. It keeps some of the formerly most egregious fines down and should deter some of the most reckless behavior.

It’s not waging any kind of “war on drivers,” but if AAA is going to claim there is one even after DC leaders make a good faith effort to address the group’s concerns, DC may as well prioritize making neighborhoods safe for residents by adding cameras and maintaining fines.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.