Follow the money

It was one of those ideas that look great on paper: Sock drivers convicted of serious driving offenses with super-fines — up to $3,000 extra — and devote the money to highway improvements.

Virginia, following New Jersey and Michigan, enacted such a law. It went into effect July 1 and already the state is having second thoughts, a cautionary lesson for states thinking of doing likewise.

The thinking was that the heavy-duty fines — “abuser fees,” in certain circles — would improve traffic safety. The anecdotal evidence is that they do not; in fact, they may do the opposite. What the law does do is fall most heavily on the poor. What it also does is raise money, and this unfortunately may trump the law’s drawbacks.

One harsh critic of the law is William Buhl, a circuit-court judge in Michigan, which has had the law since 2003. Buhl told The Washington Post, whose circulation covers a large swath of Virginia:

“I think it is a very destructive piece of legislation that is designed primarily for revenue purposes and is disguised as a highway-safety measure. In my opinion, it increases the dangers on the highways because it creates an enormous, growing pool of unlicensed motorists.”

In addition to an extra fine that can reach $3,000, Virginia tacks on a surcharge of $100 for drivers with eight points on their records plus $75 for each additional point. The driver’s license is suspended for nonpayment.

But evidence shows that many keep on driving anyway, with — again, anecdotally — the additional incentive of trying to flee a traffic stop.

The revenue forecasts tend to be excessively rosy. Michigan has a collection rate of only 40 percent on its super-fines. But like any source of cash to a government — Virginia hopes to get $65 million from them — the super-fines, once enacted, are proving tough to repeal.

There seems to be growing support in Michigan for repealing a law that is unfair and ineffective, but Gov. Jennifer Granholm is opposed. She says the state needs the money.


  1. Arlo J. Thudpucker

    It’s about the money, period.

    You will note Gov. Granholm of Michigan said so.
    You don’t believe her?

    “Safety” was the mantra to sell the tax to the gullible.


    Arlo J. Thudpucker

  2. JoyfulC

    A tax? It sure is — but it’s a voluntary tax. You don’t want to pay it, don’t speed.

  3. geyser

    Some day it will dawn on those with the power, they add to the problem by passing on the responsibility to the Car Manufacturer. They are told to add this safety feature and that safety feature thinking it will reduce accidents and save lives. Actually, what they are doing, is making the Divers less responsible.
    A person purchases a car with all the extras and feels safe to drive any way they please. The car will stop faster, the engine will slow down, lights and whistles will go off and I won’t get hurt or dead. As they contenplate what went wrong, being carried off on a streacher, they’ll just sue the auto maker.
    The great majority of people buying cars today, simply do not know how to drive these cars. They have no idea what the limitations of the car is and will drive it over the limit.
    The first act that must be changed, is the time of one getting their license. I’ll bet it is the same written test and road test that I took over 40 years ago. It is pure common sense that it has to be updated. A phycological test wouldn’t be a terrible idea also. The road test must be changed. Just knowing how to park is the least of our worries heck, cars are parking themselves today. A Defensive driving lesson should be mandatory.

    Taking One Day at a Time

  4. JoyfulC

    I dunno! I like the idea of hitting people who speed or drive recklessly in the pocketbook — especially when they intentionally go out and buy way over-powered cars in the first place, and then demonstrate the supreme arrogance and disregard for others’ safety. I also think cell phone use while driving (even hands free) should be illegal and highly fined.

    The trouble is that too many people seem to simply view the fines as a luxury tax. Some jail time and substantial (and not necessarily pleasant!) community service should be added for repeat offenders.

    At least twice a week, I drive either from my home in the country into town, or from my place in town back out to the country. Never does a drive go by when I don’t encounter at least one a**hole who apparently doesn’t recognize the risks he or she is taking, and apparently doesn’t mind exposing me to them too. I’ve taken courses from Skip Barber and John Powell, and driven on a track. I skydived for 24 years. I love to go fast. But there’s a time and a place for everything, and on the road is NOT the time or place. There are too many uncontrolled variables.

    People need to stop viewing their cars as extensions of their fantasy egos and start seeing them as the responsibility they are.

      Any one of us is a lot more likely to be killed or injured in a motor vehicle accident than as the result of an act of terrorism or a violent crime.

    It’s time we wake up to that and keep it in perspective, both with respect to our own behaviour and to the consequences we apply to offenders.

  5. Jeffers

    Who will they attack next? People who drive barefoot?

    There are a lot more dangerous things to do than drive in your stocking feet.


    Peace without freedom is still slavery.