D.C. moves to eliminate shifting blame for camera tickets

Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Get a ticket generated by one of the District's speed and red-light cameras? If a D.C. Council committee gets its way, "Someone else was driving" won't be an acceptable excuse anymore for motorists looking to transfer blame.Under existing District law, vehicle owners can submit the name, address and driver's license number of who had "care, custody or control" of a vehicle ticketed automatically for an infraction, transferring liability to that person.

But that could soon change.

The council's transportation committee on Thursday approved a measure that would eliminate the right of vehicle owners to challenge tickets because they weren't behind the wheel.

Driving and drafting
A D.C. Council committee approved a proposal Thursday that would automatically register District men between the ages of 18 and 25 for the draft when they obtain driver's licenses unless they specifically opt out of the program. "Failure to register can result in fines, imprisonment, ineligibility for student financial aid, federal jobs, federal job training programs and so on," Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh said. "Because of the potential loss of these important federal benefits, it is in the District's interest to promote compliance." Under the proposal, residents would be able to fill out a form to avoid registering through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

"Over time, the process has been abused, often to delay or frustrate the collections process," said Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, who chairs the panel.

How many motorists the change could affect is unclear. Statistics about how many vehicle owners contest tickets issued for the behavior of others weren't immediately available.

The bill also would lessen the penalties for not paying camera-generated tickets, eliminating the District's policy of suspending licenses for not paying such citations or attending court appearances in such case.

"There have been some issues where people have said they didn't gotten adequate notice and things of that nature," Cheh said. "While you'll still be liable for the penalty and any subsequent increase in penalties, the bill simply says that you shall not have your license revoked or suspended."The full council could take up the measure as early as June 5. Mayor Vincent Gray, who proposed the change in April 2011, is expected to sign it if it reaches his desk.

The panel's action came days after the full D.C. Council approved a proposal to more than double the size of the city's camera enforcement program in a bid to raise $30 million for the city's coffers.

The vote also coincided with rising calls from lawmakers for the District to lower its fines and fees. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, who has repeatedly criticized "huge" fees, has said he will create a special committee to review the penalties the city is levying.

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