The Banality of Traffic Violence

If you had been standing on the sidewalk outside Casabella Nail Salon on Wisconsin Saturday at 1:00 in the afternoon, you might be dead right now.

You may have stopped to look through the shop window. Or maybe you just received a text and stood to read it. Or maybe your child kneeled to tie her shoe. These things surely happened countless times on Saturday just minutes before 1:00 pm.

But if they just happened to occur at exactly 1:00 pm it would have been deadly.

That’s because at that moment a driver slammed his car into two parked cars hard enough to propel them across the sidewalk into shop window.

And the driver? He has ten unpaid speeding tickets dating back to 2019.

The driver owes DC over $2,500 in speeding fines. But like many Maryland and Virginia drivers, this one likely realizes that there is no reason to pay DC camera-issued tickets if you’re not a DC resident. There is no reciprocity. Maryland and Virginia refuses to enforce the tickets against their own residents.

The DC Council passed a bill requiring the Mayor to seek a new reciprocity agreement with Maryland and Virginia to account for camera-issued tickets. The mayor claimed the two states rebuffed the requests, but then it turned out that Bowser never even formally asked. Mayor Bowser has never shown that she cares particularly much about lawless drivers and her failure to even asked Maryland or Virginia to help out is par for the course with her.

So Maryland and Virginia drivers only need to pay camera-issued DC tickets out of the kindness of their hearts.

And the reckless drivers know it.

It should be noted that this particular crash does not seem to be a direct result of speeding. A longer video seems to show the driver getting out of the car, it starting to roll back, him then jumping back into the car before it careened backward. In either event it was the result of extremely careless driving by a driver with a clear history of dangerous driving.

GM does not know whether the driver was cited for the crash on Saturday, but one’s thing’s clear is that he’ll be back on the road as soon as he can and neither DC nor Maryland will do anything to stop him.

That’s because as a matter of public policy we simply don’t care about traffic violence. It’s shrugged off like an unfortunate passing rain shower.

This is the second store front smashed apart by reckless driving in Georgetown in the last three months:

And, of course, these two incidents are part of a larger problem in the city. Last year DC recorded the most deaths from car crashes since 2007. This despite the fact that through much of the year actual traffic volumes were still lower due to the pandemic. In fact, it appears that drivers learned to drive even more dangerous during the pandemic, and the city has given them little reason to unlearn that lesson.

This deadly spike continues to rise and yet, whenever the question of cars and drivers comes up in a public debate, the only thing the government seems to genuinely worry about is where they’re going to park and whether they’ll be slowed in traffic on the way. Asking whether drivers are creating too much death and destruction simply never enters the consideration.

As an example, here in Georgetown that story played out over the expanded sidewalks. We had several blocks of expanded sidewalks protected with Jersey barriers; barriers that would have protected both pedestrians and storefronts from this destructive driving. But they were removed over complaints over parking and aesthetics. Never once did the question of what role they were playing in reducing the potential harm from traffic violence arose. And now they’re gone. (To be fair, neither storefront destroyed by drivers had a barrier out in front of it before the removal. But now more storefronts are as vulnerable as these two proved to be.)

The question of how our roads and law enforcement are not discouraging traffic violence needs to be far, far more central to all transportation discussions. Any, any, any time a discussion is getting pushed over parking or traffic complaints it needs to be pulled towards the reality of traffic violence. That’s not to say that no concerns over parking or traffic should ever be considered, but they should never be considered completely in a vacuum apart from a discussion of the violence caused by drivers.

In more concrete terms, we need full ticket reciprocity with Virginia and Maryland. We need the empower the MPD to seize vehicles with so many unpaid traffic fines (the city can already boot and tow such cars, but it only has two crews able to do so and literally hundreds of thousands of boot-eligible cars). We need speeding, red light and stop sign cameras all over Georgetown (we currently have just one.) Dangerous drivers like this one should be afraid to drive into the District until they can finally learn to respect the lives they routinely threaten.

No one was killed on Saturday. But it was absolutely due to dumb luck. The next time may be different, and it will be the fault of all those in a position of authority who are unwilling to make traffic violence anything but a banal cost of modern automotive convenience.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Banality of Traffic Violence

  1. makes you think maybe DC should prioritize booting out-of-state vehicles over a certain threshold, as encountered.

  2. georgetowncitizen

    It also makes one think DC should hire a lot more towing crews. If meter maids more than pay for themselvbes (and DC loves the income), I’ll wager that towing crews would bring in even more revenue–all the whjle putting careless drivers (esp. ticket scofflaws in MD and VA) that they will pay a price.

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