The Abusive Driver Fee — an Abusive Law

One key financing provision of the Transportation Abomination will increase fees for “abusive drivers.” Gov. Timothy M. Kaine amended the law to eliminate the worst aspect of the original bill: language that would have applied the hefty new fees ex post facto, penalizing drivers for offenses incurred before the law goes into effect.

I once supported the abusive driver bill — not for the money it would raise but for the deterrent effect it would have on drivers who, on the best of days, interrupts the smooth flow of traffic with their reckless speeds and lane weaving, and, on bad days, cause wrecks and traffic back-ups for miles. I have no sympathy for these jerks whatsoever.

Then reality set in. I don’t know the history of how traffic fines were set in the past, but I suspect that they were born of experience, striking a balance between a variety of factors. In their lust for road-building funds, legislators have forgotten what those factors might be. There will be two predictable results from this law:

First, drivers will have a much greater incentive to contest traffic tickets. Those who can afford lawyers will be more likely to hire them. Traffic courts will get more crowded, and police will spend more time testifying. Next thing you know, there will be an outcry for more judges, more courtrooms and more police. Has anyone calculated what this will cost? The answer is no.

Second, drivers who can’t afford lawyers will get ground down by the system. I chatted recently with an attorney who has handled a number of traffic-court cases, and he described how, under the current, relatively lenient regime, many poor people can’t afford to pay the fines. Then they get fined for failing to pay the earlier fines. Then they get thrown in jail. The attorney spoke passionately about one client, a poor man who worked hard to provide for his wife and children. The client is now serving time in jail, not contributing to society in any way.

I don’t know how many people there are like that — maybe dozens. But they certainly will number in the hundreds, if not thousands, when traffic fines treble or quadruple. How much will it cost to put those people in jail? How much will the state lose in wages unearned and taxes not paid? Has anyone calculated what this will cost the state? No. No one will bother to do so until the law goes into effect and the unintended consequences become all too apparent to ignore.

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10 responses to “The Abusive Driver Fee — an Abusive Law”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Well, Jim, no one gets thrown in jail for not paying a fine or cost. What happens is that the driver’s license is suspended if the fine is not paid in 15 days. You have to get convicted of driving on suspended license about 5 times before you get any jail time to serve. Then you get 10 days, subsequent convictions will eventually lead to 90 day sentences, which are served on a 50 percent basis, meaning 30 days is actually 15 days in jail.

    I would submit that people who drive on suspended licenses and who drive without insurance, etc., SHOULD go to jail.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim, you make some excellent observations….so does Anon 6:27.

    You could argue back and forth all day long….I guess the question one needs to ask is does the state really increase revenues with this bill or do the costs wipe out any gains?

    IMO, the revenue gain will be insignificant.

    It’s a bad bill….see you in 2 or 3 years when there are enough “abusive drivers” to make a difference at the polls.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I personally believe that poor driver behavior will change over time. The higher the tightrope, the more likely your behavior changes.

    Today most drivers drive to not get caught,taking chances when they feel the least chance of being caught… This law will raise the tightrope so that if you are caught the consequences are more signficiant. Courts may fill until word gets out and behavior changes. Look at the success in drunk driving penalties.

    Poor driving behavior can cause significant harm… $5.5 Billion in crashes alone. 50-70% of congestion has been tied to incidents. Let’s face it, it is the non-recurring congestion that people hate. If I know a 15 minute trip will take 15 minutes (or the same trip takes 25 minutes reliably during the morning rush hour) I can plan my trip. It’s when 15 minutes takes 30-45 minutes that can get one’s blood going. What’s the economic cost to one’s personal business when you lose that big proposal because some abusive driver (driving with no license, drunk all the time, speeding, and crashing into people, drinking a big gulp and talking on his cell phone) cuts off an eighteen wheeler and causes them to lose their payload of hazardous flammable material during the AM rush hour… Shouldn’t that fine be equal to the delay they cause and no less?

    What this legislation does is fines the bad behavior in manner to convince them that they should change their bad behavior and it is appropriate.

    I would add one more provision and this law seems to do it indirectly. I would take the funding raised and divide it evenly to even adult resident in the Commonwealth and attach a letter to the effect that: 946 people died in 2005, 76,000 were injured. That’s 1 citizen in 91 injured. 1 citizen in 7,850 killed. We hope that next year when we make our refund payment to you it will be a lower than this year. The proposed legislation indirectly does this by delivering funds back to transportation instead of the literary fund.

    End of statement

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    “I personally believe that poor driver behavior will change over time. The higher the tightrope, the more likely your behavior changes.”

    That’s probably true….that being the case, the amount of $$$ the state generates from abusive drivers will likely go DOWN over time as peoples behavior changes.

    From a safety standpoint the bill has its merits….from a revenue standpoint it’s a JOKE.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Fear it will change from the abusive driver law to the abusive police law…the role of law enforcement will turn into that of tax collector.

    Trust of law officers will turn into fear and distrust.
    This is a added negative in the already total negative aspects of this awful bill.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “Poor driving behavior can cause significant harm… $5.5 Billion in crashes alone. 50-70% of congestion has been tied to incidents.”

    We have all seen truly reckess and dangerous drivers: people who blatantly and repeatedly ignore the law and common courtesy. I hold there is a difference between an accident and the unintended result of actions deliberately taken, like drinking and then driving, driving on the shoulder, etc, speeding up to beat a light, aggressive tailgating, etc. Such blatant activities should be heavily discouraged.

    But a good portion of the incidents that cause congestion are simple rear end accidents. We already have technology that can help prevent that, but it will be a long time before people are willing to give up partial control of their vehicle in favor of adaptive cruise control or automatic vehicle spacing.

    Since vehicle spacing is a primary goal of HOT lanes, maybe we can make automatic spacing devices mandatory for those that use the HOT lanes. It would be one way of introducing the concept gradually and promoting its more general eventual acceptance.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near-crashes involved the driver looking away from the forward roadway just prior to (within three seconds) the onset of the event, according to the study.

    Crashes are preventable if the driver does what they are suppose to do, particularly rear-end crashes.

  8. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    We’ve discussed this before on this site. The problem with this sort of legislation is that it is a product of political inability to discuss rationally the appropriate use of taxes for raising revenue. This results in subterfuge (burying revenue raisers in large legislations and disguising their tax impact as “fees”, and using the penal powers of the State to raise revenues through fines. I would think it almost a universally acceptable (across the entire political spectrum) that criminal and civial penalties imposed for law violations should not have anything more than than a coincidental, insignficant effect on govermental income/revenue. To use penalties as revenue raisers is an unacceptable perversion of the criminal justice system that should be resolutely opposed as a threat to both justice and liberty. That our elected officials in the General Assembly can’t see this is indicative of how much brain rot has set in on the issue of responsible tax policy.

  9. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Thank you, NoVa Scout, you articulated the larger philosophical issues at stake very nicely.

  10. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Nice one, Nova Scout.

    Anonymous: Agreed. They give us this nice big picture window: all we have to do is look out and whatever is there, stay away from it.

    Yet we don’t do it. It must be a lack of imagination. On two occasions I was close enough to an accident in progess to watch the bodies fly out of the car. After that, I didn;t need any more imagination.

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