Monday, November 5, 2012

Lower Fines Plus More Cameras Could Enhance Safety On DC Streets

This morning I will be testifying on behalf of the DC Bicycle Advisory Council on the topic of legislation introduced by Councilmembers Cheh, Wells, and Barry which would set fines for speed camera fines based on traffic safety research. I had the opportunity to participate in a series of task force meeting which led to the development of this legislation. First, I want to say that the Councilmembers should be commended for taking an inclusive, public approach to developing the legislation. Second, I will suggest changes to make sure the legislation enhances traffic safety in Washington, D.C.

The automated enforcement task force focused on how to change behavior to make people act more safely on the road – is the answer high fines, or is the answer more certain enforcement? In the case of speeding, the task force did not find evidence that higher fines enhance safety. By contrast, there is ample evidence that the presence of automated enforcement cameras does reduce infractions and enhance safety. These two facts reveal a promising pathway to increasing safety: increasing the number of automated enforcement cameras combined with lowering the associated fine to the level supported by the research.

Over the weekend, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that he is lowering the fine for speeding between 11-15mph over the speed limit from $125 to $100. If passed, this legislation would further lower this fine as well as the fines for some other infractions. The legislation should also require that new cameras be installed. This combination is the key to making sure that we continue the trend in recent years of decreasing traffic fatalities in Washington, D.C.

The full testimony of the DCBAC is below:

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Testimony of the DC Bicycle Advisory Council
On “The Safety-Based Traffic Enforcement Amendment Act of 2012”
Committee on the Environment, Public Works and Transportation, 
Jameel Alsalam
November 5, 2012

Good afternoon Councilmember Cheh and members of the committee. I am a representative on the DC Bicycle Advisory Council. The DCBAC has appreciated the chance to participate in the task force which led to this legislation. The process has been useful to bring community input and expert knowledge to the process of developing legislation. Today, I will offer suggestions to strengthen “The Safety-Based Traffic Enforcement Amendment Act of 2012” and ensure it enhances traffic safety.

For vulnerable road users including cyclists and pedestrians, improving traffic safety and reducing dangerous traffic infractions is extremely important to preventing injuries and deaths. Over the past ten years, we have experienced a trend in steadily decreasing numbers of traffic fatalities in Washington, D.C. Over this period, the automated enforcement program has become a powerful tool in improving safety for all road users. Throughout the existence of the automated camera enforcement program there has been a consistent complaint from the motoring public that the fines imposed by the program are too high. Whatever changes we make in the automated enforcement program, we must ensure we do not reverse the existing trend of decreasing traffic fatalities in our city.

The automated enforcement task force focused on how to change behavior to make people act more safely on the road – is the answer high fines, or is the answer more certain enforcement? In the case of speeding, the task force did not find evidence that higher fines enhance safety. By contrast, there is ample evidence that the presence of automated enforcement cameras does reduce infractions and enhance safety. These two facts reveal a promising pathway to increasing safety: increasing the number of automated enforcement cameras combined with lowering the associated fine to the level supported by the research.
This legislation would lower some automated enforcement fines – it should also require that new cameras be installed. Making this link between both pieces of the puzzle is key to improving safety and defining a strategy for traffic enforcement for years to come.

But some people ask – “What if the research is wrong? What if people ignore the new lower fines and we end up endangering the lives of DC residents walking to the grocery store or cycling to work?” For example, when drivers make very rapid right turns they sometimes create “right-hook” crashes, which can be very dangerous for cyclists riding to the right. We can’t know for certain whether reducing the fine for turning right on red without stopping might increase the number of right hook crashes.

The way to solve this problem is to make sure we carefully study the impacts on safety of the changes being made by the legislation. The legislation currently includes a requirement for a study to assess the safety impact resulting from the reduced fines including “a detailed analysis of any changes in moving violations and repeat violation rates.” In addition, the study should examine the rates of traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities before and after the changes are made.

In summary, the BAC supports the expansion of automated enforcement and a fine structure that contributes to the existing trend of reducing traffic related injuries and fatalities. We believe that the goals of this legislation are to strengthen the automated enforcement program and improve safety, and those are goals that we support wholeheartedly. We ask for two key elements to ensure these goals are met: 1) the legislation should link an increase to the number of cameras in D.C. to the proposed fine reduction to ensure that the legislation as a whole is safety-enhancing, and 2) there should be a robust study of safety outcomes after the changes are made to ensure that the positive safety trend we have been experiencing continues. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

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