By Scott McCabe
Twenty-three people have lost their lives in traffic crashes in D.C., so far this year, nearly twice as many over the same period as last year, according to a new report.
“When I came across that figure, I was shocked,” said John Townsend II, of AAA-Mid-Atlantic, which released the report Thursday. “It’s disconcerting, disheartening. It’s really puzzling to us.”
There were 12 people killed in traffic accidents at this time last year. The 23 deaths so far is more than all of 2012, when there were 19.
The spike comes as traffic deaths in the city and nationwide have seen a tremendous drop over the last 10 years, due largely to increased safety standards.
Nationwide, in the first three months of 2013, there was a decrease of about 4.4 percent, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Although it’s too soon to determine what’s caused the uptick in road deaths in Washington, Townsend said, he believed one factor is the District’s reliance on automated speed cameras and red light cameras.
District officials announced plans to more than double its arsenal of traffic cameras by adding 132 new traffic enforcement cameras to city streets. That will bringing the total number to 232. The District has raked in more than $70 million fines so far this year.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has argued that the traffic cameras, which will also nab drivers who run stop lights and stop signs, protect citizens and help free up patrol officers to perform other duties.
“Automated enforcement saves lives,” said D.C. police spokeswoman Gwen Crump.
Just slowing down a few miles an hour increases pedestrian survival rates considerably, Crump said. An adult pedestrian hit by a car going 30 miles per hour has an 80 percent chance of living. If the car is going 40 mph, there is more than 80 percent chance that the pedestrian will be fatally injured, she said.
Automatic enforcement has been great for ticketing people but the city also needs to return to days of high-visibility enforcement, Townsend said.
Getting a traffic ticket in the mail three weeks after the alleged infraction, doesn’t have the same affect as coming face to face with a police officer with a ticket book, Townsend said.
“When officer steps out of car and pulls you over,” Townsend said, “it has a lasting impression.”