Few are fans of tra∞c cam­era laws, but fewer are fans of pos­si­ble col­li­sions

The Washington Post Sunday - - COMMUTER -

The cherry blos­soms are emerg­ing, and so are the peo­ple who en­joy walk­ing in the spring air. Laws meant to pro­tect those pedes­tri­ans aren’t clear to all trav­el­ers, so I thought I’d high­light one. Dear Dr. Grid­lock: I moved to Ar­ling­ton in late 2015 after liv­ing and work­ing abroad. On my very first drive into Wash­ing­ton last March for a busi­ness meet­ing, I got a $150 cam­era ticket for “Sig­nal Pass Red Light.”

The ticket was for stop­ping at the far end in­stead of the near end of a cross­walk at a red light. I was in the process of turn­ing right on red, and of course, you can’t turn safely un­less you move enough for­ward to make sure no cross traf­fic is com­ing.

There were no pedes­tri­ans in the cross­walk at the time, as the im­age clearly shows.

I ap­pealed the ticket on­line. Ten months later, after hav­ing for­got­ten about it, I re­ceived a no­tice that my ap­peal was re­jected. It’s clear that Wash­ing­ton in­tends to en­force the let­ter of this par­tic­u­lar law.

Imag­ine my con­fu­sion over this. In and around the District and Vir­ginia, most cars seem to be speed­ing, at least 15 mph over the limit. I’m be­ing tail­gated all the time be­cause I never go that fast. I’ve also reg­u­larly seen cars run red lights, and make sud­den turns and lane changes with­out sig­nal­ing. At first glance, a ticket for an im­pre­cise stop won’t de­ter th­ese more fre­quent and more se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tions that are much more likely to re­sult in in­jury or death.

En­forc­ing a rel­a­tively mi­nor traf­fic rule to the let­ter, on pain of a sub­stan­tial fine, gives the im­pres­sion that the District has found yet an­other way to tax those who drive into the city.

I’ve read that D.C. has vig­or­ously de­fended its cam­era tick­et­ing pro­gram, but my case im­plies again that no real pri­or­i­tiz­ing, judg­ment or dis­cre­tion is be­ing ex­er­cised in en­force­ment or pun­ish­ment. I have to add my name to the list of skep­tics and hope that some­day the District can earn back the re­spect of its driv­ers in­stead of mak­ing them dread en­ter­ing the city.

— Alan Hoffman, Ar­ling­ton

I of­ten re­ceive sim­i­lar com­plaints about traf­fic cam­eras, but they’re not al­ways so rea­son­ably phrased. Thanks to Hoffman for send­ing one I could print.

The traf­fic safety law in ques­tion is much more com­mon than the use of cam­eras to en­force it, but that's be­come more wide­spread in re­cent years.

Even where a right turn on red is le­gal, driv­ers must come to a com­plete stop first, and they must do so be­fore they en­ter the cross­walk.

Many driv­ers tell me they have rea­sons for a lib­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion of this law: There were no pedes­tri­ans present, there was no on­com­ing traf­fic, it was day­light, they were go­ing very slowly, they did stop but not ex­actly be­fore the cross­walk.

If you can spare a few min­utes some­day, stand at an in­ter­sec­tion and watch how trav­el­ers be­have. Many driv­ers roll into right turns on red with their heads turned to the left so they can watch the on­com­ing traf­fic.

They’re not out to hurt any­body, but whether they roll through the turn or stop only after they’ve passed through the cross­walk, they’re los­ing a chance to look around for all pos­si­ble col­li­sions.

You want to be watch­ing for peo­ple do­ing the right thing, like cross­ing on green in a cross­walk, and peo­ple do­ing a stupid thing. Dear Dr. Grid­lock: I’m notic­ing more and more pedes­tri­ans who can nei­ther hear nor see. I’m talk­ing about walk­ers who are pay­ing com­plete at­ten­tion to their smart­phones. I was one of them when I worked down­town; the pres­sures to be on top of all the lat­est de­vel­op­ments are real. So, rec­om­men­da­tions for th­ese folks to look up and lis­ten will prob­a­bly fall on deaf ears.

Driv­ers should re­al­ize that pedes­tri­ans look­ing down at phones are just as likely to do some­thing dan­ger­ous to them­selves as are un­su­per­vised tod­dlers. Of course, this ad­vice works best for driv­ers who aren’t glued to their small screens. — Stephen J. Verdier, Alexan­dria

Leif Dorm­sjo, the di­rec­tor of the District Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, said back at the be­gin­ning of Vi­sion Zero that the safety pro­gram’s goal would be to pro­tect all trav­el­ers, not just the ones be­hav­ing prop­erly in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion.

I like that idea, un-Dar­winian as it may be. It keeps me and my read­ers alive. Dr. Grid­lock also ap­pears Thurs­day in Lo­cal Liv­ing. Com­ments and ques­tions are wel­come and may be used in a col­umn, along with the writer’s name and home com­mu­nity. Write Dr. Grid­lock at The Wash­ing­ton Post, 1301 K St. NW, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. 20071, or email dr­grid­lock@wash­post.com.

Dr. Grid­lock ROBERT THOM­SON

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