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Audit Uncovers DC’s Arbitrary Traffic Ticket Practices

under Traffic Ticket

Written by Staff Writer

A recent report focusing on the District of Columbia’s three primary agencies that deal in traffic tickets revealed substantial flaws and gross oversight in the multi-million dollar issue. Though DC officials are good at getting money out of DC, Maryland, Virginia and other drivers — $179 million to be exact – they aren’t very good with the details – such as matching plates to the right vehicles and drivers.

The DC Inspector General issued the report on Monday based on the findings in a 115-page audit of three municipal agencies that gave out 2.5 million traffic and parking tickets in 2013. Motorists have complained for years about the arbitrary issuance of speeding and traffic tickets when cameras are involved or when parking meters fail to function properly.
Among the more disturbing problems highlighted were:

The Washington Post notes an unnamed, senior District official is quoted in the report as saying, “One of the beauties of parking, it’s like the [Internal Revenue Service]. If you get a parking ticket, you are guilty until you have proven yourself innocent … . And that’s worked well for us.”

DC currently has 87 speed cameras, many of which are positioned on multilane streets, and the District plans to order more.  When the picture is taken, more than one car often shows up in the image.  Police department analysts then decide who deserves the speeding ticket. The inspector general’s report noted that oftentimes, reviewers were inconsistent when deciding who should receive the speeding ticket.

The report states, “The [inspector general] believes that [D.C. police] should discontinue this practice because it leads to the issuance of erroneous tickets. The [inspector general] frequently receives correspondence from out-of-state motorists insisting that their vehicle is not the violating vehicle. The motorist is then in a difficult and uninformed position of having to figure out and prove how the District or another jurisdiction erroneously linked his or her vehicle to the license plate in the violation image. The onus in these instances should be on the District — to make issued tickets irrefutable — not on vehicle owners to prove how the District erred when it issued the tickets.”  Ticket issuing can especially be unfair when people are driving rented cars from out of state and feel helpless against the matter at hand.

And it also notes that a great number of Maryland and Virginia drivers have been negatively impacted by these issues, as well as drivers from outside the District.

The report includes a number of questions that have arisen over the use and legal validity of traffic ticket and speed cameras and the District, noting that none of the questions have been addressed by DC officials. The issues include:

  • Could these images and videos be requested by either the prosecution or the defense [in] a criminal investigation?
  • Could insurance companies request access to specific images and videos to make determinations of insurability?
  • Could someone request and be given access to these images and videos as part of a civil case, such as a divorce or child-custody proceeding?
  • Could the District (or one of its contractors) be held liable in the event of a data-security breach that results in the public disclosure of images in which vehicles or pedestrians are easily identifiable?

For those who drive in DC, either for work or for pleasure, the audit was hardly surprising. It merely underscored and put in writing the frustration and problems that have plagued the region for years. As many have pointed out in the days after the report was released, the District has made a sizable profit from its ticketing system and those who suffer the greatest impact are often the working poor and middle class. Commuters from areas including Maryland are also hit particularly hard by these nefarious practices. It is well past time for the DC Council to take action on the matter. If you live in Maryland and have been affected by DC’s arbitrary issuance of parking or traffic tickets, including being cited for violations you have not committed, an attorney can help you challenge your citation. Contact the law office today to schedule a no-cost consultation.