As the D.C. Council considers legislation that puts negligent drivers at further risk of license revocation, District teachers, administrators and parents continue to guide children along heavily congested corridors and intersections in the hopes of preventing accidents like those that have seriously injured and even killed young people in recent years.
On Alabama Avenue near Stanton Road in Southeast, crossing guards and Safe Passage coordinators establish a presence on both sides of Turner Elementary School where impatient drivers have been known to speed through crosswalks filled with children and parents during rush hour.
Even with the inclusion of traffic lights, some people, like a teacher who requested anonymity, demand more be done to address the legions of inexperienced and uninsured drivers traveling across state lines to acquire temporary tags and license plates from other jurisdictions.
Though the teacher expressed appreciation for the Automated Traffic Enforcement Effectiveness Amendment Act, they remain skeptical about whether it would deter people who circumvent driving laws.
“People can operate cars without full training,” the teacher said. “This is a loophole [and] hit and runs [involve] people who are not fully licensed and insured. A conversation must be had with states that allow people to skip credentialing.”
Currently, drivers who get tickets through traffic cameras, or automated traffic enforcement, have to pay a fee. Some drivers collect hundreds, and even thousands, of dollars in tickets that place them in economic hardship.
If the D.C. Council approves the Automated Traffic Enforcement Effectiveness Amendment Act, District drivers would accumulate one point for moving violations caught by traffic cameras, including running stop signs and red lights, and driving at more than 11 miles per hour above the speed limit.
Drivers would get one additional point for violations that take place in school zones.
Drivers who accumulate more than five points stand the risk of getting their cars towed or immobilized with a “boot.”
The legislation triggers the same response for vehicles carrying counterfeit tags. The director of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles would also be responsible for sending a biannual report to the insurance companies of drivers who’ve made several traffic violations.
Safeguards in the bill include the waiving of a violation after two years and a process through which drivers can challenge violations doled out when they weren’t operating their vehicle. Drivers could also get their points waived by completing a driver safety course.
D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At large), who introduced the bill on Sept. 19 with Council members Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At large), Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2), and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), touted the additional point for school zone violations as an important factor in encouraging people to drive more carefully.
“Careful and safe driving is important regardless, however, knowing that they are in a school zone should prompt drivers to be more hyper-aware of their surroundings,” Henderson said. “We have had too many injuries, fatalities, and dangerous ‘near miss’ collisions, primarily in communities across the [Anacostia] River, within school zones.”
Over the past couple of years, nearly half of the District’s traffic deaths occured east of the Anacostia River. In 2021, traffic-related deaths reached a 10-year high with 37 people. Vision Zero, a program put in place by the Bowser administration in 2015, has bore the brunt of criticism from parents and ANC commissioners alike who say it hasn’t gone far enough in curbing dangerous driving, even with the installation of speed bumps, protected bike lanes, traffic cameras and other mechanisms.
Along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Anacostia, students from Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School, Excel Academy and Savoy Elementary School navigate heavy traffic and construction along the corridor during rush hour.
Even with the help of Safe Passage workers and teachers, some people, like Raymond Weeden, wonder how coordination between District agencies could make construction less of an obstruction for drivers and pedestrians.
Weeden, executive director of Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School, commended the D.C. Council for taking on the issue of traffic safety. However, he too questioned whether adding points to driver’s licenses would prove effective.
“I think it will be a deterrent for some people [but] I worry that it takes one car to run a red light and a young person or seasoned person to get hit in the crosswalk,” Weeden said.
“I’m curious to hear from other locales that have proven this as a true mitigation strategy. I know we have a lot of revenue on tickets [so] it shocks me that this is being championed.”