The Washington Times

Dear Department of Motor Vehicles Adjudication Services: It was so nice to hear from you after all this time. We had about given up. After all, it was Feb. 12 when we wrote in response to the “Notice of Infraction” we received from your friends at Automated Traffic Enforcement about going 36 miles an hour in a 25 mile-an-hour zone.

Like they say, the camera never blinks. That was one of the nicest pictures of the back end of our car I have ever seen, and the enlargement showing our license plate number big as a billboard was pretty neat.

As we noted in reply to you at the time, we had no beef with your proposition that our car was smokin’ down the road at 36 miles an hour. As we said, that is probably just about the top speed you hit on the steep downgrade on Cleveland Avenue NW bound for Calvert Street before you tap the brake to slow down. Your camera must have been positioned at just the right spot to nab the maximum number of not only lead-footed speed demons and aggressive drivers but also drivers operating their vehicles in a safe and reasonable manner downhill. Congratulations.

Anyway, 36 in a 25 wasn’t a problem. And we didn’t have a problem with sending you the $50 you wanted. To us, it was just another endearment of life in the District of Columbia.

The problem was that $50 wasn’t enough for you. You also insisted that we plead guilty. You said that in order to admit the infraction and pay up, and therefore avoid our fine doubling, we also had to swear “under penalty of perjury” which one of us was driving at the time.

The trouble is, we weren’t sure. We are a one-car family, and frankly, looking back more than a month to the Jan. 3 date of the infraction, we can’t say with precision which one of us was behind the wheel. We’re both in the car; we can tell that from the nice picture you sent. But it’s not big enough to see who’s who.

So, anyway, we checked the “deny” box and wrote to ask you for some clarification (and we published our letter in this space Feb. 12). What should we do? Fifty bucks is one thing, but swearing “under penalty of perjury” when you’re just not sure is something else. Besides, we figured that since you had possession of the picture from the camera, as well as the means to enlarge it hugely (that license plate again), we decided that we weren’t sure we could trust you. Suppose we swore that one of us was driving just to get this over with, and you checked and saw that whereas we said a man was driving, clearly a woman was driving. Nothing personal, but we weren’t sure what you would do.

Well, the weeks and months went by. Then, in April, we were surprised to receive a “Notice of Deemed Admission,” of all things. It said, rather ominously, “Our records show that you failed to answer the initial Notice of Infraction for this violation within 30 calendar days.” What? But we did answer. It continued, “under District law, you are deemed to have admitted this violation. Therefore, a penalty equal to the original fine was added to the total amount due.” Strangely, though, the “total amount due” was still $50. Then, at the bottom, we saw another sentence: “If you have previously answered, please disregard this notice.” And then you sent us another, identical “Notice of Deemed Admission” in May.

So what’s the matter with your “records,” anyway? You aren’t really keeping records, are you? You just send out a “Notice of Deemed Admission” to everybody who hasn’t paid up in 30 days, don’t you, on the hope that they’ll send in the $50. And we’d bet the reason you don’t actually double the fine is that you’re hoping people will think they’re getting a break.

Meanwhile, what about your demand for an admission “under penalty of perjury” that seemed so important to you in the first place? What was that all about?

Well, as we said, finally we got our “Hearing Record” in response to our reply, signed by an actual human being, finding us liable, with no more nonsense about swearing “under penalty of perjury.” “If found liable, payment is due immediately,” it said. Or we could appeal.

That might be fun, but instead we’re sending in the $50. Which we would have done in the first place, except for the arrant nonsense and mumbo-jumbo you insisted on. It has been a rich experience for us. And our only hope, as we enclose our check, is that in making you read our reply, we drove up your costs enough to make this transaction unprofitable for you. If enough people did that, it would be the end of “automated traffic enforcement,” and maybe you would start thinking once again about how to maximize traffic safety rather than traffic profits.