Only residents of Washington, DC face penalties if they decline to pay red light camera and speed camera tickets mailed from the nation’s capital. In a report to DC City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser confirmed she had failed to convince Virginia and Maryland to sign a reciprocity agreement that would suspend driver’s licenses or vehicle registrations in those states over unpaid photo tickets. A DC ordinance gave the mayor power to negotiate the agreement.
“Prior to the law taking effect, the mayor reached out to the governors of Maryland and Virginia to discuss a reciprocity agreement which met the requirements of the act,” the mayor’s office reported. “However, both jurisdictions declined to enter into a reciprocity agreement based on the determination that such an agreement would negatively impact the customer service of their motor vehicle offices.”
DC and its automated ticketing vendor, Verra Mobility, install cameras on major routes into and out of the city to ensure the overwhelming majority of tickets go to non-residents. Past efforts at collection often relied on reporting non-payment to credit reporting agencies. This practice was found unlawful and ended in a 2015 legal settlement. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion agreed to stop considering fines and assessments that individuals never actually agreed to pay when assessing credit scores. This means unpaid traffic fines cannot lower a motorist’s credit rating (read settlement details).
The District is not alone in its inability to enforce non-resident automated citations. As the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) explained, Virginia cannot enforce mailed citations to either residents or non-residents tickets — unless they have been properly served.
“Although the statute permits the jurisdiction to make the initial attempt to summon the accused to court via mail, if the person fails to respond, he or she is not considered to have been satisfactorily served with notice,” VDOT explained (view report). “The average citizen is probably not aware of this loophole, but if word were widely disseminated, such knowledge could completely undermine the effectiveness of red light camera programs, as citations issued to violators would lose their practical impact.” Source