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WASHINGTON — When a Petworth resident spotted a car in his neighborhood a month ago, he noticed something odd. The Virginia temporary license tag of 16314A expired in 2013.
He began to do some digging to understand how that could be, and after a quick Google image search It wasn’t hard to find, requiring a simple Google image search for “Virginia Temp Tag.” It’s the first image that pops up on somebody’s Pinterest page.
“Untraceable car. Untraceable tag that can just be printed out and used on other vehicles across the city as well,” said the Petworth resident, who requested to remain unnamed.
D.C. records show cars using this so-called temp tag racked up nearly $14,000 in D.C. parking and speeding fines, a symbol of what many people say is wrong with D.C. Traffic Enforcement.
“If we continue to allow folks with basically, a ghost car, where there’s no repercussions for their actions,” added the Petworth resident.
Drivers racking up tickets can prove to be deadly. Three men in a sedan were killed in March when the driver of an SUV, fleeing a traffic stop, crashed into them on Rock Creek Parkway. DC Police said the driver of the SUV had 49 speeding camera tickets totaling more than $17,000.
Another car flagged by D.C. Councilmember Christina Henderson racked up $32,000 in unpaid camera ticket fines, and yet the car owner can still renew their driver’s license.
“All of that would not be on your record. And in fact, now you cannot pay and still renew, said Henderson. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Starting now: T&E Roundtable on DPW Traffic Enforcement. We got a data dump of boot eligible vehicle info. My staff did some analysis…
Excuse my language but what in the absolute eff?!?! These aren’t parking tickets. We have a serious problem here. pic.twitter.com/bmdnNY0Fll
The problems come down to a few unique D.C. factors. First, as the councilmember mentioned, D.C. does not prevent those with parking or camera tickets from renewing their license.
One reason for that Henderson says are equity issues. Public works boots an average of 550 cars a month. WUSA9 joined D.C. crews on the streets releasing boots on those who did pay their fines.
“You’ll have customers coming out running, they’ve got to take their kids to school, or go to work. It’s just like, sorry – it’s our job,” said D.C. Department of Public Works employee Kareema Thomas.
Second, D.C. has no reciprocity agreement with Virginia or Maryland. That means those states do not enforce D.C. tickets on their residents, and it shows with huge numbers: as of the end of 2022, 4,202,669 unpaid tickets totaling $889,198,824.
“The District government made some choices before my time that sort of led to Maryland and Virginia basically saying, ‘Oh, OK, so if you’re not going to enforce this, then why would we enforce this against drivers registered in our states?'” said Henderson. When asked how this problem could be fixed, Henderson responded, “We’re looking at Arizona. Phoenix actually has a system. Chicago, interestingly enough, has a system as well.”
Arizona privatized its camera enforcement and companies send process servers to people’s homes to bring speeding violators to court. Illinois alerts car owner insurance companies about speeding violations caught on camera.
D.C. Council Transportation chairperson Charles Allen has an idea: “Several of us, myself included, tried to pass legislation at this council, that after three dangerous driving with unpaid citations, there is a way in which you could lose your license. And we weren’t able to get that across the finish line.”
But the legislation has the legal challenge of proving that those car spotted speeding are actually being driven by the person being cited. However, Allen and Henderson expect to make their second push in the coming months.
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