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Parking ticket notifications are useful, but slow

The DC Department of Motor Vehicles has a system where drivers can register to get email notifications if their car gets a ticket. While useful, it could be far better if the lag time weren't so long.

Photo by John M on Flickr.

You can register for the service here, but only if your car has received a ticket within the last 18 months. The DMV says it's "to ensure confidentiality of data." Once you register, if your car gets a ticket, you'll get an email with the horribly bureaucratic subject line, "Citation Issuance Alert." That can occasionally come the day after you get a ticket, or many days later.

For example, this spring I just forgot to get my car inspected when it was supposed to be. I got a $50 ticket for doing so, which I totally deserved, and then went and got it inspected as soon as I could. On May 17, I got a ticket, and received the email the day after, on May 18.

It was extra helpful to have this system, because the ticket actually wasn't on the windshield. I have no idea what happened to it, but I wouldn't have known about it but for the email.

However, what's less great is that this was actually my second ticket for the offense. I also got one on May 16, as my car was parked for a few days. That notification only showed up on May 24. Had I known about the May 16 ticket before I got the May 17 one, I would have gone to get the inspection sooner, or temporarily moved my car off the street until I could get the inspection.

You could say, well, you broke the law, so you deserve the tickets. Sure, and that's why I paid them. But our objective with parking tickets should be to get people to comply with the law, not to maximize ticket writing.

In this case, people need to get their cars inspected. One ticket probably is enough to get people to comply. Writing two tickets on adjacent days, when the car owner isn't even aware of the infraction in between, doesn't achieve any real objective.

There are almost surely valid technical hurdles to faster notification. The tickets have to go through a few steps to get from the DPW ticket writers to the DMV computers. (Representatives from DPW and DMV did not reply to a request from last week for more information about what causes the delays.) However, these are almost surely surmountable, though perhaps at a cost. DMV ticket writers already have machines that communicate with a central database to find out whether the driver of a car at a parking meter is using ParkMobile to pay for parking, rather than the physical meter, for instance.

The same goes for speed tickets. I've heard from people who got multiple tickets before receiving the first in the mail. Since we really want people to drive slower, not get a lot of tickets, it would be much more effective to tell speeders very quickly that they've broken a law.

At last year's task force on camera tickets, DMV and MPD officials said it was difficult to give people a "grace period" or make fines higher for subsequent speeding tickets, because of the lag times involved. But that shouldn't mean we can't reduce the delay.

In a sense, we should think of every ticket as a failure. Just as our goal for crime is to have none of it, rather than to have more and just assess a lot of fines, so should a long-term goal be to reduce the numbers of tickets while increasing compliance. Faster notifications could be one way of getting there.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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FYI - the DMV system, good or bad, is definitely not new. Been signed up for it for over a year now.

by flojo on Aug 14, 2013 2:23 pm • linkreport

Sounds like the system is mainly designed to help ensure that people pay on time rather than see fines double due to late payment. But it would be great to get a ticket right away if you left a car in a place where it is vulnerable to towing.

by JimT on Aug 14, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

Link is broken

by djg on Aug 14, 2013 2:39 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry Dave now realizes that ticket writing is more about the revenue than changing behavior.

I'm trying to think, in the 20 years, of an accident in the tunnel under Washington circle.

by Charlie on Aug 14, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

djg: Thanks, I've fixed the link.

Charlie: I've always said tickets should be about compliance and not revenue. Always, and over and over. The problem with speeding tickets is that some people want the solution not to be faster feedback, but to just not enforce the speeding laws. I'm not saying we should give people a pass for not doing their inspection, I'm saying we should tell them quickly so they can get it done.

by David Alpert on Aug 14, 2013 3:03 pm • linkreport

I am confused here. Don't you get a parking ticket under your windshield wiper, as shown on the image? How much faster do you want it?

by Jasper on Aug 14, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

How much faster do you want it?

Instantly would be nice. Why not? These are the same folks who will wait around until 1 minute after a meter has expired or someone has parked too long in a zone to issue a ticket. There's no reason why the notification should take days to issue.

There is also the issue of some tickets being lost or otherwise destroyed by the weather (e.g. wind). I've never had this problem but have heard it from others.

by Scoot on Aug 14, 2013 4:01 pm • linkreport

I have to say that I disagree with your attitude about issuing these tickets in the first place. It should be up to me what is a reasonable speed to drive or if i want to roll through a red light at 3am when i see no ones around and it's safe to cross. At some point enforcement of this nonsense just becomes harassment. Especially with the fines in DC begin do much more than out in MD.

Anyway though, this is a nice system to at least be able to pay on time(and aviod doubling or quadrupling fines) if your like me and use or check your regular mail much.

Also, if you've got some outstanding tickets you can pull the number for them to sign up for this by putting your plate in here:

by Doug on Aug 14, 2013 6:59 pm • linkreport

"fines in DC being so much" and "if you're like me and DON'T use or check your regular mail much."

by Doug on Aug 14, 2013 7:14 pm • linkreport


"It should be up to me what is a reasonable speed to drive or if i want to roll through a red light at 3am when i see no ones around and it's safe to cross."

What?! That is ridiculous. Drivers like you don't deserve a licence.

by Thomas on Aug 14, 2013 7:37 pm • linkreport


Don't deserve a license??? Come on, that's a little harsh. Yes, traffic lights are great devices and useful to follow when there are multiple cars coming together at an intersection but that doesn't mean you always have to obey them. I'm not advocating driving recklessly but in the rare case when you can see for a great enough distance up a particular street that no vehicle going at a plausible speed could make it to the intersection from either direction in the time it would take my car to cross that instersection than it is silly to sit there at a red light for 5 minutes just because those are the rules and god forbid I break a rule. As for speed, I think we all know of some sections of road which can be navigated reasonably safely at greater speeds than posted. We should be punishing people for endangering others on the road not just to enforce obedience.

by Doug on Aug 14, 2013 8:57 pm • linkreport


Your logic puts a little too much confidence not only in your own driving skills and good judgement, but in those of others. Today, while driving home from work, I encountered a driver that didn't feel the speed limit was reasonable, nor did she feel the other drivers, who were already breaking the limit, were speeding quite enough. She weaved around other cars, pulling in front of oncoming traffic and nearly running other cars off the road. She then ran through a red light and almost t-boned another vehicle. Maybe your decisions would be less dangerous, but if we all just go around dismissing laws we don't agree with, it would be chaos.

Driving 5 or 10 miles over the limit on a roadway with good visibility around all turns and intersections... not so bad. We all do that now and then. Driving on through a red light in the middle of the night when you are SURE you won't cause an accident? I would never feel comfortable doing that, but I can see how others would. So maybe my comment was a bit much, but where do you draw the line? If we all had common sense and respected each other's safety, we wouldn't need laws. However, that's not the world in which we live... ESPECIALLY not here in the DC metro area.

by Thomas on Aug 14, 2013 10:11 pm • linkreport


I draw the line when a driver feels they should be allowed whatever speed they feel like. Engineers who are trained and paid to do this choose speed limits based on safe operating speeds. To think that someone who may be driving on a road for the first time (or even the 100th time) knows better than those engineers is absurd.

by Kyle-w on Aug 15, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

Plus the streets may have been designed for higher speeds but that doesn't mean the pedestrians and cyclists disappeared. (though they're harder to see while speeding). I'd love for every street in DC to be designed so that its uncomfortable to go more than 25mph. Until then there are still going to be lots of peds and cyclists using the streets anyway and they need consideration.

by drumz on Aug 15, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

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