Few are fans of tra∞c camera laws, but fewer are fans of possible collisions
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Gridlock ROBERT THOMSON