Black neighborhoods are hit hardest by automated traffic enforcement in D.C., according to a recent D.C. Policy Center report.
The analysis conducted by William Farrell, a transportation engineer, used census data to quantify segregation in the city and then analyzed the number of traffic violations and compared it to the number of reported traffic collisions with each area to check the relative issuance of citations across various tracts.
Farrell found that drivers in predominately Black neighborhoods received more moving violations and higher fines though Black and white neighborhoods had similar number of car crashes.
In Black-majority neighborhoods, drivers received double the average number of moving violations per capita, while driver in White segregated neighborhoods receive just one eight of the average, meaning a driver in a Black neighborhood is over 17 times more likely to receive a traffic violation, at the cost of 16 times more per resident, than in a white neighborhood.
“My analysis of moving violations citations and crash data suggests that the racial geography of D.C. does play into in the enforcement of traffic violations: census tracts with higher proportions of black residents are associated with a higher incidence of traffic fines, despite not experiencing a greater number of crashes,” Farrell said.
Noting that proponents of speed cameras and red-light camera remove the potential for racially discriminatory traffic enforcement, the report marks that “given the District’s high degree of racial segregation” based how such technology is used and place “can still have a disparate impact in terms of outcomes.”
“While research shows that traffic cameras do reduce vehicle speeds, collisions, and injuries, this analysis highlights the racial inequities that can happen when a city relies too much on enforcement as a Vision Zero strategy,” he said.
In late 2015, D.C. joined the international Vision Zero movement by committing to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2024. But the initiative’s efforts have been criticized.
In 2016, the District issued nearly one million speed-camera tickets last year and collected close to $100 million in revenue, both record-breaking figures, according to an AAA Mid-Atlantic report released in 2017.
The city’s Automated Traffic Enforcement program, also known as photo enforcement, is led by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) with support from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and includes automated red-light and speed cameras.
Since D.C.’s automated camera systems were installed in 2007, the city has collected more than $536 million in revenue from the program and has meted out 5.4 million tickets, according to the most recent dataset on the program.
Last year, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of Public and Government Affairs John Townsend II said D.C. officials have been “more systematic” about rotating the city’s nearly 150 speed cameras. He charged that the scheme was to increase revenue rather than safety benefits, saying that only a few of the city’s cameras generated a sizable portion of the automated ticketing system’s revenue.
“This program is not about safety, it’s about money,” Townsend said.
A 2016 DDOT before-and-after crash analyses at 48 locations with red-light cameras and 118 with speed cameras found a 16 percent reduction in total crashes where speed cameras were deployed and a 26 percent drop at red-light camera location. In the report, DDOT said the analysis has helped them “identify significant safety benefits where speed and red-light [cameras] are deployed.”
“I am deeply concerned by this report which says predominately black neighborhoods in D.C. bear the brunt of automated traffic enforcement,” tweeted Councilman Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5). “I take seriously traffic safety but am working on a bill to ensure that the use of [automated traffic enforcement] devices are equitable citywide.”
Several pieces of legislation already aim to lessen the burden of traffic tickets on District residents.
One bill, approved in January, eliminated penalties if a motorist fails to pay a fine within 30 days. Still under review are measures that would require parking infractions to be waived if the owner of the vehicle can prove they did not receive notice of the infraction, create an amnesty program for D.C. residents who own more than $1,000 in fines to be allowed to pay 60 percent of fines and to establish a 12-month payment plan for those with less than $100 in violations.