Road Rage Retribution: Driving “Points” in Washington, D.C.

by Jamison Koehler on October 28, 2009

One time, while with my father in a car, I noticed another motorist who seemed upset with my father’s driving.  I don’t know what my father did wrong, if anything, but the other guy sure was angry. My father seemed oblivious to the honking and the shouting and the gestures.  Did you see that guy, I asked my father afterward?  What was he so upset about?  Never mind, my father said calmly.  I gave him a mental demerit.

I thought of this today as I was researching the “point” system in Washington, D.C. for assessing a person’s driving record.  I have often heard people worrying about getting “points” on their driving record, but I never really knew what these “points” were or how they were assessed.   I was pleased to learn that the term “points” is actually short for “demerit points,” which made me think of my father.

So what are these dreaded “demerit points”?  According to D.C.’s Municipal Regulations, you get points on your driving record for certain infractions, with the number of points you receive tied to the severity of the offense.   A serious infraction, such as driving with a suspended or revoked license or driving while intoxicated, will get you 12 points.  A minor infraction, such as tailgating, will get you 2 points.  Points stay on a person’s record for two years.

A driver can also accumulate “safe driving” points to offset the number of demerit points on the person’s record.  A driver can receive one safe driving point a year, up to a maximum of 5 points, for every year in which he or she is not assessed a demerit point.

Suspension of a driver’s license is discretionary when the total number of points, offset by any safety points, reaches 8 or 9.  Suspension is required at 10 points, and the license will be revoked at 12.

So, do you get points on your license for being rude to another driver?  Actually no, not unless you run him over (12 points), flee the scene of the accident (another 12 points), exceed the speed limit by over 15 miles an hour (4 points), cut off a fire truck responding to an emergency (6 points), pass a school bus with the red lights blinking (4 points), and then lie under oath at the resulting court hearing (12 points).

Still, I can’t help thinking that my father had it right with his system of mental demerits.  In addition to the moral satisfaction he felt by not rising to the other driver’s provocations, my father must have enjoyed the knowledge that it was only a matter of time before the other driver, by engaging in this type of behavior, would find his operating privileges in jeopardy.