Police aren’t the solution to traffic safety

On Thursday, May 20th, the DC Council held a hearing on “The Recommendations of the D.C. Police Reform Commission”. WABA submitted the testimony below:

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Jeremiah Lowery, and I am the Advocacy Director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA). I am submitting testimony on behalf of Defund MPD Coalition’s Police out of Traffic Enforcement working group. 

I would like to first and foremost state the main point of my testimony: the Police have not been and will continue to not be the solution to traffic safety. 

As the policy director at WABA, part of my job is to examine best practices to ensure everyone in the region has an opportunity to safely commute. From our perspective the best way to ensure walkers, bikers, and bus riders have safe commutes is to fund safe infrastructure to change driver behavior, and to educate drivers on safety rules and regulations. The police are not a sustainable solution.  

Therefore we agree with the police reform recommendations to remove MPD’s traffic enforcement duties. Our Defund MPD working group of lawyers, research fellows, and advocates have combed through the DC Code and the DC MR. Based on this research, we propose the following changes:

We propose that the following responsibilities be moved to DDOT or DPW (with a strong emphasis on ensuring DDOT or DPW staff are properly trained and resourced):

  • Make secondary only (can’t pull over for it, but can ticket if there’s a basis for a stop) 
    • Operating Unregistered (18 DCMR § 411.1)
      • Operating a vehicle without proper registration may be a secondary violation but cannot be used as the primary grounds for initiating a traffic stop.
    • Light Violations (18 DCMR §§ 703-706)
      • Violation of proper headlight (§ 704), taillight (§ 705), turn signal (§ 706), or other lighting equipment (§ 703) shall not be justification to initiate a traffic stop.
  • Failure to Wear Protective Equipment While Riding (18 DCMR §§ 2215.3, 2215.4)
  • Failure to Wear a Seatbelt (D.C. Code § 1802)
    • Failure to comply with District seatbelt laws shall be enforced by an alternative government agency.
  • Amend (narrow to dangerous driving)
    • Littering (18 DCMR § 2221.6)
      • Littering should only be a primary infraction justifying a traffic stop if the driver throws something out of the vehicle which will pose imminent danger to other drivers. 
    • Distracted Driving (D.C. Code § 50-1731.3)
      • Overlaps with other provisions governing texting, talking, etc.

We believe that the following could still be retained by MPD (violations that pose a serious danger to persons or property), until adequate alternatives are found. Violations such as:

We also completely support the repeal of the Window Tint Prohibition (D.C. Code § 50-2207.02(c) prevision. 

We also want to state on the record, that we also believe that automated traffic enforcement is not a sustainable long term solution. DC fines residents more than any other city, yet at the same time the problems with traffic violence still persist. Also, the burden of traffic fines falls disproportionately on poor and Black residents, while at the time the money from traffic fines are not being fully invested in implementing  infrastructure changes to dangerous corridors and intersections.

Long term, if we want to see traffic violence then we must change infrastructure, to give residents more safe locations to bike and walk in the city, away from cars. We must also change the roads to reduce speeding, which would lead to changed behavior. 

Lastly, for the record we support the Law Enforcement Vehicular Pursuit Reform Act of 2021. 

Today, we testify as a part of a growing number of people in the transportation advocacy community, we stand alongside the chores of voices who will submit testimony on this matter, voices who state that we must divest from dated models that don’t work and invest in sustainable solutions. The time is now.