DCision 2014: DC’s Candidates for Attorney General on Walking and Pedestrian Safety Issues

All Walks DC surveyed candidates for mayor, council, and attorney general. We will use candidate’s responses to compile scorecards on candidates’ perspectives on walking issues.

Today, let’s take a look at how the attorney general candidates stack up. We received responses from four candidates: Edward “Smitty” SmithPaul ZukerbergLorie Masters, and Lateefah Williams.

Do you believe that civil suits involving traffic crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists should be judged by comparative fault rather than contributory negligence?

Lorie Masters: Yes. Pure contributory negligence is a dated practice and is only used in four states (Alabama, Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina) and the District of Columbia—it’s time we changed this practice. And further, I support the bill introduced by Councilmembers Cheh, Grosso and Wells because I strongly believe it’s time to make the District of Columbia a comparative negligence jurisdiction in cases involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

Edward “Smitty” Smith: D.C. is a contributory negligence jurisdiction, which means that any form of contributory negligence establishes a complete bar to recovery. I believe that D.C. should join the vast majority of the rest of the country in judging civil suits by comparative fault as opposed to the “all-or-nothing” contributory negligence. Contributory negligence has rightly been criticized as unduly harsh and unfair and as providing inadequate recognition of the often-shared fault between two parties to an accident. I agree with implementing a system such as comparative fault which compares the fault of the parties and reduces the injured party’s recovery by their own percentage of fault.

Paul Zukerberg: Yes, I believe that comparative fault is the better system, properly allocating risks and providing appropriate compensation to victims.

Lateefah Williams: Civil suits involving traffic crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists should be judged by a modified comparative fault rule. Many states follow either the 50 percent Bar Rule or 51 percent Bar rule. Pedestrians and bicyclists cannot recover damages if their degree of fault is at, or above, the set bar, but if it is falls below, they can recover, although their recovery is reduced by their degree of fault.

Do you support vigorous enforcement of DC traffic and related criminal laws?

Lorie Masters: Absolutely.

Edward “Smitty” Smith: DC traffic and criminal laws are crucial in ensuring safe streets. As Attorney General, I will support MPD’s robust enforcement in keeping the streets safe for pedestrians, cyclists, and automobile drivers.

Paul Zukerberg: Yes, as attorney general I will vigorously enforce traffic laws and regulation to provide greater safety to the community.

Lateefah Williams: Yes, I support vigorous enforcement of DC traffic and related criminal laws. It is important to ensure the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers, and that is what the traffic laws are designed to do. While I support enforcing the related criminal laws, I also want to balance the actual sentence against my goal of diverting more people away from the criminal justice system. However, diversion would come after an arrest and only if certain conditions are met.

Will you work with MPD and the US Attorney to ensure thorough investigations of, and appropriate consequences for, drivers who commit traffic offenses that result in injury or death?

Lorie Masters: I will work closely with MPD, the US Attorney, the Mayor, the Council, DC residents, the Departments of Transportation (Local and Federal), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and any other entity that can help in the process of ensuring that drivers who commit traffic offenses are thoroughly and fairly investigated; and where appropriate, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Edward “Smitty” Smith: Fatal traffic accidents occur far too often and, when a car strikes a pedestrian, the outcome is often tragic. As Attorney General, I will work with both the US Attorney and MPD to ensure our streets are safe. That means investigations and prosecutions for not only fatal traffic offenses, but also other traffic offenses that are a danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers alike.

Paul Zukerberg: Yes, I look forward to a close and daily working relationship between the AG office, MPD and the US Attorney’s office, and the community to investigate, prosecute and provide strict consequences for serious traffic offenses.

Lateefah Williams: Yes, I will work with MPD and the US Attorney to ensure thorough investigations of, and appropriate consequences for, all who commit traffic offenses that result in injury or death. All individuals should feel safe traveling throughout the District and if a traffic offense results in injury or death, it is imperative that there is a thorough, open, and transparent investigation. I will work with the necessary parties, including MPD and the US Attorney, to ensure the District government enforces appropriate consequences, if that is what the results of the investigation warrant.

Do you support the continued use of traffic cameras to enforce existing traffic laws?

Lorie Masters: Yes I do support the continued use of cameras to enforce traffic laws. I understand that the rate of collision-related fatalities and injuries has dropped dramatically since we initiated the use of cameras. So it’s clear to me that the cameras are effective with respect to enhancing safety for drivers and pedestrians alike (and I think it’s important to reiterate that fact that this drop has occurred even as the city’s population and traffic have increased). On the other hand, I’d also like to point out that the cameras have been put in place to ensure safety, not as revenue generators. So, as Attorney General I’ll work to keep the focus of the use of cameras on keeping DC safe and making sure that they ae used fairly to fine the actual violator.

Edward “Smitty” Smith: MPD resources are stretched thin. Traffic cameras are a key resource for MPD to keep our streets safe for all who travel them, especially vulnerable pedestrians. I support the continued use of traffic cameras because they save the city money and allow us to allocate resources elsewhere to ensure the safety of pedestrians.

Paul Zukerberg: Yes, I support the continued use of traffic cameras to enforce existing traffic laws, while assuring that due process rights are provided and that the systems is administered fairly.

Lateefah Williams: Yes, I support the use of traffic cameras to enforce existing traffic laws. Traffic cameras allow the resources of the MPD to be utilized in other capacities. We currently employ the use of over 200 traffic camera in all quadrants of the city. The District of Columbia has seen marked reductions in traffic offenses with results in improved safety in our pedestrian friendly city.

Currently, it can be difficult for the public to learn about the causes and effects of traffic crashes because comprehensive and complete data are not maintained by a single DC government source. In addition, the limited data that are published may not be published for more than a year after the crash occurred. Data transparency is an important aspect of ensuring an effective and safe transportation system. Do you support the regular and full release of data about traffic crashes, including information about locations and causes of pedestrian crashes and the injuries and fatalities that result?

Lorie Masters: I will support any effort that lends itself to ensuring a safe and effective transportation system for DC. More specifically, I will fully employ the powers of the Office of the Attorney General to ensure the safety of our city’s pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. In so doing I will work to develop a more comprehensive and centralized source for data submission and retrieval. I am also in favor of the release of all information regarding crashes and the resulting injuries, in any instance in which the release of that information does not infringe upon or violate any rights or rights of privacy to others involved.

Edward “Smitty” Smith: Transparency is key for an effective government and I have committed to making transparency a central feature of my office. Key information such as crash data is important for the safety for all road users. As Attorney General, I will support the regular and full release of the data. We need credible and measurable data to determine the best course for our city, and this includes compiling and releasing statistics on traffic crashes in a timely fashion.

Paul Zukerberg: Yes, I support the release of data about traffic crashes, improved data tracking and evidence- based solutions to traffic safety.

Lateefah Williams: Yes, I support the regular and full release of data about traffic crashes. I believe in an open and transparent government. Thus, the public has a right to review data to gain a full understanding of the circumstances surrounding pedestrian crashes, and the injuries and fatalities that result.

The main principle behind Vision Zero – initially implemented in Sweden and recently adopted in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco – is that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area’s transportation system. DC has adopted the similar concept of “Toward Zero Deaths.” Do you support changes in enforcement that would be necessary to achieve Vision Zero in our city?

Lorie Masters: Yes, I will support changing/enhancing laws, rules and regulations around enforcement in an effort to move us closer to a “Zero Deaths” model. As I noted above, I will work closely with anyone who can contribute to the reduction of traffic related deaths in our city. Equally important, I’m certain that by calling on DC residents to engage in existing “Toward Zero Deaths” practices like those found in DC Driving 101 we can and will further reduce deaths on our roadways.

Edward “Smitty” Smith: I stand strongly behind “Vision Zero,” which is premised on the notion that no pedestrian injury or fatality is inevitable or acceptable. As Attorney General, I recognize that my job is to protect the public. Our citizens deserve and expect safe streets. Preventable injuries cannot be tolerated and, as Attorney General, I will strive to make our city a more pedestrian-friendly city. I will commit to improving street safety by expanding enforcement against dangerous moving violations like speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians.   Finally, I will vigorously monitor the safety of streets and take appropriate measures as needed.

Paul Zukerberg: I fully support the concept that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable and that zero loss of life is the goal.

Lateefah Williams: Vision Zero and “Toward Zero Deaths” have similar goals; they both aim to eliminate traffic fatalities. The current plan, “Toward Zero Deaths,” is comprehensive and is tailored to address the intricacies of our respective city. The changes needed to fully enforce Vision Zero do not take into account the architecture of our city plan. Our streets are peppered with circles and lined with historical buildings and green spaces. Our city welcomes throngs of tourists that walk, ride and drive within our boundaries. Due to these reasons, I support DC’s “Toward Zero Deaths” initiative, but I am open to discuss how to make the necessary changes to implement Vision Zero, while taking DC’s unique characteristics into account.

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