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Washington D.C. to text dangerous drivers in attempt to curb spike in traffic accident deaths

Twenty-four traffic-related deaths have occurred in D.C. this year, an increase of eight deaths compared to this time last year

Published: June 27, 2023 12:20pm

The Washington D.C., government is sending personalized text messages to drivers with a history of traffic violations and crashes, in an attempt to reduce reckless driving and rising traffic fatalities.

“Targeting messages to higher-risk drivers is an innovative approach to help us improve safety for all our roadway users, especially for our most vulnerable users – children and pedestrians,” said D.C. Department of Transportation Director Everett Lott.

The department and The Lab @ D.C., will send messages to a list of 100,000 drivers, warning them to follow speed limits and obey traffic signs.

The list consists of D.C. area drivers, including ones from neighboring states with infractions in the city who received two or more citations in the last 18 months.

The list was compiled using D.C. police data, automated traffic cameras, local crash data and license plate identification, says Sam Quinney, director at The Lab @ D.C.

The program is the latest attempt from the city to make the roads safer, after increasing fines for traffic violations, restrictions on turns and lower speed limits did little to curb the rate of crashes and deaths, according to The Washington Post.

Some drivers will receive a mailer and text message, while others will be contacted using only one method or not be contacted at all. The first round of messaging is expected to start in as soon as two weeks, and drivers have the option to opt out of future messages.

The Lab @ D.C. has launched similar programs with other city agencies, which include identifying where D.C. residents are most likely to encounter rodents and reminding families to reapply for rent subsidy benefits. Mailers noticeably improved the rate at which families reapplied for benefits, researchers say.

The program is part of the larger Vision Zero D.C. initiative, which pledged eight years ago to end city traffic deaths by 2024. Officials are expected to release a revised plan by next year, due to traffic deaths increasing since Vision Zero D.C.’s launch.

Twenty-four traffic-related deaths have occurred in D.C. this year, an increase of eight deaths compared to this time last year, according to D.C. police data. Fatal crashes however decreased from 40 deaths in 2021, the most in the city since 2007.

City officials couldn’t provide an exact cost of the program, but said funding will come from Vision Zero’s total budget. Officials said the messaging program’s expenses are low compared to other traffic-safety initiatives like changing roads.

“It allows us to have a greater impact at a lesser cost,” Quinney said. “So, if they have an impact and reduce crashes, that becomes another tool in our tool kit.”

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