News & Politics

DC Is Great at “Exploiting” Drivers, Motorist Group Says

Traffic cameras, low speed limits, and restrictions on cell phone use make the District bad for drivers, according to a new ranking of states (and one city).

Photograph via Shutterstock.

The District leads the nation in “exploiting” drivers, according to a new ranking issued by the National Motorists Association. The ranking judged the 50 states and DC according to how closely they regulate roads and enforce traffic laws. The group, which describes itself as a “motorists’ rights organization,” claims DC is shamelessly hostile in how it treats people who get behind the wheel.

The organization reviewed jurisdictions across several metrics, including regulations, enforcement tactics, legal protections available to drivers, and the cost of driving, with a total possible score of 100. DC wound up with 24 points.

“The District scores painfully low across the board,” says National Motorists Association spokesman John Bowman.

Bowman says DC is particularly brazen when it comes to traffic cameras, which have proliferated in recent years and added tens of millions of dollars to city coffers. He says instead of monitoring cars at busy intersections, the city should re-time its traffic lights to make it easier for drivers to make those yellow lights.

Traffic cameras can be irksome, but the National Motorists Association ranking is a series of straw-man arguments, not the least of which is comparing a 68.3-square-mile city against 50 states that vary in terrain, population density, and land use. The rankings also deducted points based on factors that even the most aggressive drivers should favor, such as restrictions on hand-held phone use while driving.

The ratings also heavily favor states with higher speed limits. Speed limits in dead-last DC vary from 25 miles per hour on some downtown streets to 55 miles per hour on Interstate 295. The top-ranked state, Wyoming, has a highway speed limit of 80 miles per hour. The 98,000-square-mile state also has about 60,000 fewer residents than the District.

DC is bad, but Maryland isn’t much better, apparently. Chart courtesy National Motorists Association.

Bowman says some of the metrics, like speed limits, are weighted relative to a state’s size or population. The bigger theme, he says, is how jurisdictions regard drivers, and in DC, drivers are apparently chattel. But they’re lucrative chattel, with traffic cameras generating $85 million in tickets in 2012.

The National Motorists association also disputes government studies finding that the installation of traffic cameras reduces collisions and casualties. When told of a recent District Department of Transportation report finding that collisions at locations monitored by traffic cameras are down 16.8 percent since the devices were installed, Bowman suggested those conclusions are flimsy justifications to keep drivers under the brutal yoke of Big Traffic Camera.

“The old model used to be protect and serve,” Bowman says. “Lately, though, we’ve seen the emergence of a command and control model, and DC is the best.”

That’s not entirely fair. Traffic cameras might be abundant—15 more came online today—it’s not like drivers don’t have advance warning. Locations of all the traffic cameras are available on the city’s Atlas Plus website:


Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.