Surprise Hot Story of the Week: Abuser Fees

In the absence of a more compelling political narrative during the summer doldrums, the issue of abuser fees for reckless drivers has become the issue du jour in the Mainstream Media. A half dozen newspapers, plus the Associated Press, published articles on the topic yesterday.

Down in Martinsville, the abusive driver fees have become a campaign issue. Jeff Evans, a Republican candidate for state Senate, has attacked his opponent, state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, for introducing a version of the law on the behalf of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. As quoted in the Martinsville Bulletin, Evans said in a press release:

“Of course [the fees] will place an undue burden on any of our low-income citizens and cause many more to simply ignore the law and place themselves in danger of serving jail time. Even worse, it applies only to Virginia residents. That is just not right.”

The same day, someone raised the out-of-state angle during the call-in radio show with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine. The Governor opened the possibility of extending the abuser fees for reckless driving and Driving Under the Influence to out-of-state drivers.

The idea sounds reasonable — why should Virginians be held to a higher standard? But as Christina Nuckols with the Virginian-Pilot explains, the matter gets complicated very quickly.

The fees are currently treated as civil penalties collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you don’t pay the fee, your driver’s license could be suspended. The fees would have to be changed to criminal fines in order to collect from out-of-state drivers.

Virginia’s constitution earmarks all court fines to be spent on school construction and teacher retirement benefits. The bad-driver fees were adopted to generate new money for road maintenance.

Meanwhile, House Speaker William J. Howell has responded to criticism in the Free Lance-Star: The Kaine administration, he wrote in a column, estimates that only 150,000 people, 2.5 percent of all licensed drivers, would have been affected during the past few years. Further, writes Howell:

A cursory check of the facts would have found that abuser fees have worked successfully in New Jersey, where the number of demerit points drivers have accrued for dangerous driving has fallen since that state’s fees were introduced. The direct results of Virginia’s plan will be better driving, safer roads, less traffic congestion due to accidents, and more money for transportation.

Seems to me that we should have had this debate before the law was passed. Bacon’s Rebellion raised a number of issues during the transportation debate, but in the stampede to find new revenue sources, only a handful of others questioned the law. To this day, I have yet to see an an article that quotes Virginia traffic judges for their opinions of what the law might mean. We have only begun to explore the ramifications of this issue.

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9 responses to “Surprise Hot Story of the Week: Abuser Fees”

  1. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    Jim Bacon –

    Not Larry Sabato is carrying a posting today that Del. David Albo,
    R-Fairfax County, whose law firm
    handles driving violation cases,
    gets $4,500 for DUI cases. Albo
    played a role in getting the new
    legislation passed that has caused
    the stir which is the subject of
    your posting.

    At home, in Fredericksburg, the
    Free Lance-Star took Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford
    County to the wood shed about this
    legislation and he did respond as
    you noted.

    But in that exchange the public was
    not told that the New Jersey law
    cited by Howell does not levy fees
    as high as the Virginia law intends
    to happen.

    The New Jersey law applies to all violators in that state, while the Virginia law has lower fines for
    US residents holding a driver’s
    license from another state and
    non-US residents holding a driver’s
    license from another country.

  2. Jeff Evans Avatar
    Jeff Evans

    As a former State Trooper I certainly support any effort that may make our highways safer, but I am opposed to this legislation because it applies only to Virginia residents.

    In the Martinsville Bulletin article Mr. Bacon cited, my opponent claims that his version would have applied to all drivers, not just Virginians, but a careful examination of his SB1196 will show that it is identical word-for-word with the final legislation.

  3. Spank That Donkey Avatar
    Spank That Donkey

    I think this tax increase should be better known not as Abusive driver fees, nor Civil Remedial fees, but rather the 2007 Attorney Supplemental Income Act.

    If you are facing a $300, $500, or $1,000 annual fee to DMV for whatever the violation are you more likely to hire legal counsel and gamble that the $400 ‘investment’ to get out of the charge will save you in the long run?

    I noticed last year the Trial Lawyers have started giving to the VA GOP… coincidence? Hey I’m just saying, you know…

    Here is one of my favorites VA Code Section 46.2-1042 Operate Vehicle with Below-Standard Tires.. $300 annual fee…

  4. Spank That Donkey Avatar
    Spank That Donkey

    annual fee for three years.. (clarification)

  5. Jeff Evans Avatar
    Jeff Evans

    To clarify;
    I was mistaken. I compared SB1196 to HB2376, the final version before being included in HB3202.

    It seems the provision that would have presumably caused these fees to be applied to all drivers remained intact until the legislation came back from the Governor’s desk.

  6. rodger provo Avatar
    rodger provo

    To All-

    Re: 9:50 am posting

    Not Larry Sabato says David Albo
    and his law firm is paid $4,500
    for handling DWI cases, not DUI

    I understand lawyers get more for handling the latter charge.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Recently on WTOP Governor Kaine placed the blame for the new driver abuser fees on Delegates Albo and Rust. However, these abuser fees were promoted greatly by the Governor from the beginning of the Transportation Package negotiations. I just wanted to set the record straight on who was a vocal supporter of these abuser fees.

    From his Aug 28, 2006 Money Committee Address:
    Both Houses agree on abuser fees. The dangerous behavior of unsafe drivers threatens the safety of other drivers and causes accidents that create congestion. Those drivers should be financially accountable for their actions.

    From his Jan 10, 2007 State of the Commonwealth address:
    Both houses agree that abusive drivers should pay stiffer fines to be used for transportation needs. To solve our funding dilemma, I have proposed a basic transportation financing package. Three elements of the package—proper use of existing auto insurance premium taxes, charges to abusive drivers and a commitment to using surplus dollars for transportation—require no new revenues from law-abiding citizens.

    From his first transportation plan, six days into office 2006:
    This plan includes enhanced fees for abusive drivers .

    From his transportation plan announced Jan 2007:
    Imposes an abuser fee on motorists who drive under the influence, drive recklessly, or commit certain other offenses.

    2006 Legislation introduced at the request of the Governor including SB 722 DMV; assessment of fees on certain drivers, use of fees collected.

    So as you can see, Kaine hasn’t been honest with us when he says he knows little about this.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    I wrote Representative Dave Albo, who indeed is directly, if not alone, responsible for this bill.

    I did accuse him of seeking to enrich himself, but apologized later. That’s a serious accusation to make in advance, so let’s let that go for now.

    Here’s my response to his reply to me. His very short final reply back to me was that the gas tax wouldn’t fly because “politics is the art of the possible.”

    Tell him your thoughts… but please be polite. He’s a decent, if misguided, fellow who’s trying to do something. I just wish it wasn’t THIS!

    his email address:


    Hello Dave,

    Thank you for the prompt response. Please let me apologize for the insult you felt regarding your abusing your position. The article I read had implied that was something that might be an aspect, and I take your word that it isn’t. Again, my apologies.

    I drive to NOVA frequently, and have spent hours in traffic (Friday afternoon on the Beltway, for example) and understand the need for more congestion relief. No arguments there. Although my first choice is better mass-transit… every forward-thinking locality in the world knows that with the rising costs of sprawl, congestion and pollution, rail is the long-term solution. Still, certainly road improvements must be made.

    My issue is with the nature of this specific fundraising move. I’d say it’s cruel and unusual, despite whatever may have occurred in New Jersey, to expect to fund the state’s highway needs on the backs of a relatively small number of drivers with, let’s say “bad habits.”

    And what’s wrong with a gasoline tax? I’d certainly pay a gas tax if it went for rail, better roads, and a stout measure of homeland security in the form of lowering dependence on middle-eastern oil. It’s time our leaders showed some genuine backbone and found a way to make this case, and the sooner the better. Nobody, certainly not in well-paved NOVA, needs an Escalade to get to the office and pick up the kids. But if they want it, let ’em pay for it. There’s an equitable way to get your funding without tossing bad-luck offenders into debtors prison.

    I’m sorry, Dave, but I just can’t for a second understand how such a regressive tax, which is what you’ve given birth to, can be accepted in any common-sense way. You aren’t convincing me that it’s ‘safety’ related. Localities all over the country are shortening the ‘yellow’ signals on their lights to increase fines from cameras. This move does NOT make intersections safer, the opposite is true. But it sure gives them a nice revenue stream. Again, want safety?: better drivers’ education and more frequent road testing of drivers. Outlaw cellphone drivers… that’s a no-brainer.

    Your tax on traffic infractions is going to make severe hardships on people, like young folks who aren’t getting the proper driver education in the first place. I want the repeat offenders off the road, believe me. But this fine isn’t the way to achieve it. You know that as well as I do, and I simply find it a bit disingenuous for that to be trotted out as a ‘benefit.’ The only benefit is you can point out that you’re now making ‘criminals’ pay for the new roads.

    I once got a speeding ticket, in Los Angeles many years ago, for going one-mile-per-hour over the speed limit. ONE mile over. The cop told me they were ‘getting tough’ on speeders. Hah! He knew it was a revenue stream, and I knew it too. Did that experience build my respect for the law? What do you think?

    Laws like this, obviously, undermine the authority of our laws and law enforcement officers. The patrol officer who stops me is now just a tax collector, and the whole system is rigged now.

    You’ve instituted a kind of reverse lottery: This time, though, when your number comes up, you LOSE big time. It’s all chance, it could be a simple mistake… but it’s gonna cost the motorist AND the State of Virginia.

    I sincerely hope you’ll reconsider your position. As sympathetic as I am to your need for money, this is the wrong way to go about it. A gasoline tax is equitable. People need to stop driving gas-guzzlers and that’s a fine way to do it. Rail is the long-term solution to congestion and endless sprawl, and a fuel tax would be a great way to pay for it. Automobiles are already subsidized to an absurd level: Just look in Iraq if you don’t think so. That war is absolutely being fought to subsidize our fuelish ways.

    Thanks for your time,
    Zino Davidoff

    On Jul 6, 2007, at Friday, Jul 6, 079:45 AM, wrote:

    Thanks for writing. Sounds like you have heard about the “Abuser Fee” bill from the internet. There is an article floating around that is completely misleading. There is no such thing as a $3000 traffic ticket. Like many things on the internet, the information out there is unreliable.

    Sorry you don’t like the bill. In short, the premise of it was that people with good or even normal driving records should not have to pay the same amount as those who break the laws or amass a large number of tickets. I don’t think its fair for you to pay the same as the guy who is driving drunk, reckless or who gets four tickets in one year.

    As for your allegation that I am using my office for my personal benefit, please excuse me if I get mad, but I have never used my House of Delegates position to benefit me personally. In fact, I lose tens of thousands of dollars doing this job. Specifically to address your allegation on this Abuser Fee bill somehow benefiting me, quite simply, this is an utterly false allegation. There is not a rational person in the world who would hire me, or any attorney, for $1,200 for an un-guaranteed possibility that they would get out of a $900 or $1050 ticket. I am offended that you would think that I would use my office to advance myself. My take-home pay from the House of Delegates is $900/mo. I don’t do it for the money, I do it because I love the neighborhood in which I grew up and am trying my best to make it a great place to live.

    In my efforts to make our neighborhood a great place to live, I have been listening to my constituents in Springfield and South County. I have been living here since 1970. And everyone has one main complaint – transportation. People have been complaining, asking, begging for years for a solution to the transportation nightmare. One constituent noted that since it takes him 1 1/2 hours to get to work, he can’t be an SYC soccer coach for his kids. Long commutes means that none of us can otherwise have a life outside of work. Three hours a day in a car is a waste of a life, and I intend on solving the problem.

    So a number of years ago I started trying to find a way to build some roads. Along with other Delegates from NOVA, we put in bills to pay for NOVA roads with existing revenue. If you look at some of my bills, you will see bills to change the transpo funding formulas, bills to make the rest of VA send us $ for roads, bills to allow NOVA to keep some of the money it sends to Richmond to pay for its own roads. Every year, year after year, the bills were killed. The bottom line is that NOVA has 21 Delegates and the rest of VA has 79. And the 79 refuse to send $10,000,000 of their funds to NOVA.

    So, what I wanted to do was not possible.

    So what was left? The way I look at it, we could do nothing, whine and cry about it and therefore never build a new road in NOVA, or we could we could solve the problem.

    I decided to solve the problem.

    Solving the problem required raising a lot of money. I rejected general tax increases proposed by the Senate. I rejected their gas tax, income tax and sales tax increases. I wanted to look at user fees. Activities that generate traffic, and raise money off of those activities.

    The story goes on much longer, but to get to the point that you wrote: How did the Abuser Fees come about?

    Well one idea was to charge every driver $10-$20/yr to raise $ for roads. Instead, I thought, “Why should good drivers, the drivers who don’t break the laws, pay the same as those who break the laws?” Thus, the Abuser Fee concept was born. We looked at NJ. They have had such a plan in place for years.

    Our plan charges about 2% of the drivers in VA. It charges large fees for the commission of traffic crimes (any traffic offense which is punishable by jail time e.g. Reckless, DWI, Driving on a Suspended License, Vehicular Manslaughter, etc.) and those with a large amount of DMV demerit points – any person with a -8. (Note that you can have as good as a +5. And any person who hits a -8 just needs to take a safe driving course on line and get another +5. Thus a -8 is really a -13, which is equivalent of getting 4 moving violations in one year).

    So there you are. Sorry you don’t like the idea, but I had to build some roads. If you had a chance to read the Post on Friday, you would have noted all the roads being built in our area. I-95 widening at Newington, the completion of the Fairfax Co Pkwy, widening of Rolling, Light at Rolling and Barnack, new Metro and VRE cars.

    Here is a link to the article.

    Virginia Approves Spending For Roads
    Transportation Funds Rise 41%

    Write back if you have any more questions!



  9. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Zino, Thanks for sharing your correspondence with Dave Albo. While I disagree with Del. Albo on the issue of abuser fees, I am happy to have his carefully composed response to your letter posted on the blog for all to read. It’s a lot more informative than watching sound bites on TV@ Likewise, I value your perspectives as well. I hope more readers will follow your example and post similar correspondence on this blog (where relevant to the subject).

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