Photo by John M on Flickr.

The DC Department of Motor Vehicles has a system where drivers can register to get email notifications if their car gets a ticket. While useful, it could be far better if the lag time weren’t so long.

You can register for the service here, but only if your car has received a ticket within the last 18 months. The DMV says it’s “to ensure confidentiality of data.” Once you register, if your car gets a ticket, you’ll get an email with the horribly bureaucratic subject line, “Citation Issuance Alert.” That can occasionally come the day after you get a ticket, or many days later.

For example, this spring I just forgot to get my car inspected when it was supposed to be. I got a $50 ticket for doing so, which I totally deserved, and then went and got it inspected as soon as I could. On May 17, I got a ticket, and received the email the day after, on May 18.

It was extra helpful to have this system, because the ticket actually wasn’t on the windshield. I have no idea what happened to it, but I wouldn’t have known about it but for the email.

However, what’s less great is that this was actually my second ticket for the offense. I also got one on May 16, as my car was parked for a few days. That notification only showed up on May 24. Had I known about the May 16 ticket before I got the May 17 one, I would have gone to get the inspection sooner, or temporarily moved my car off the street until I could get the inspection.

You could say, well, you broke the law, so you deserve the tickets. Sure, and that’s why I paid them. But our objective with parking tickets should be to get people to comply with the law, not to maximize ticket writing.

In this case, people need to get their cars inspected. One ticket probably is enough to get people to comply. Writing two tickets on adjacent days, when the car owner isn’t even aware of the infraction in between, doesn’t achieve any real objective.

There are almost surely valid technical hurdles to faster notification. The tickets have to go through a few steps to get from the DPW ticket writers to the DMV computers. (Representatives from DPW and DMV did not reply to a request from last week for more information about what causes the delays.) However, these are almost surely surmountable, though perhaps at a cost. DMV ticket writers already have machines that communicate with a central database to find out whether the driver of a car at a parking meter is using ParkMobile to pay for parking, rather than the physical meter, for instance.

The same goes for speed tickets. I’ve heard from people who got multiple tickets before receiving the first in the mail. Since we really want people to drive slower, not get a lot of tickets, it would be much more effective to tell speeders very quickly that they’ve broken a law.

At last year’s task force on camera tickets, DMV and MPD officials said it was difficult to give people a “grace period” or make fines higher for subsequent speeding tickets, because of the lag times involved. But that shouldn’t mean we can’t reduce the delay.

In a sense, we should think of every ticket as a failure. Just as our goal for crime is to have none of it, rather than to have more and just assess a lot of fines, so should a long-term goal be to reduce the numbers of tickets while increasing compliance. Faster notifications could be one way of getting there.

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.