The great commonwealth of Virginia, finding itself short on revenue, has decided to add a fee on top of traffic violation fines. The lowest fee will be $900 for the least serious of offenses; the highest will be $2,250 for first-time drunk driving offenses. A list of wrongdoing and fines is here. A full explanation of fees is available here. (Note that not using a turn signal will cost Virginians $1,050.)
This has prompted outrage. The town of Front Royal may ignore the fees and not allow its jurisdiction to participate in their collection. Similar measures in New Jersey and Michigan have caused significant portions of low-income residents to lose their licenses, as they cannot afford the fines. The Virginia law does not allow judges to reduce the fine.
A new online petition which requests the repeal of this nonsense has, at time of post, received 162,000 signatures.
The Commonwealth stated that the fees will generate $65/million in revenue per year. It also stated that the funds will come from the very worst of drivers – the worst 2.5%. This is plainly nonsense. The text of the bill states that:
MISDEMEANOR RECKLESS DRIVING – FAILING TO GIVE ADEQUATE
AND TIMELY SIGNALS OF INTENTION TO TURN, PARTLY TURN, SLOW
DOWN OR STOP; or
MISDEMEANOR RECKLESS DRIVING – DRIVING WHEN VEHICLE
LOADED SO AS TO OBSTRUCT VIEW TO FRONT OR SIDE OR TO
INTERFERE WITH DRIVER’S CONTROL OF VEHICLE.
will result in a $1,050 fine. So if a kid runs out into the street and you slam on your breaks, be prepared to cough up $1,050. Better get that furniture shipped: it’s now going to cost you $1,050 if you’re caught with a papasan chair in your trunk.
There are 7,642,000 persons residing in Virginia, of which 5,045,000 are licensed drivers. Now, Virginia could impose a $13/year tax on driver’s licenses to obtain the necessary $65 million, or a $0.01/gallon increase in the gasoline tax. Instead, it decided to play Russian Roulette with its tax system. A lucky few will avoid having to pay anything (despite a benefit received in terms of highway projects); others will be financially ruined. Most Virginians would prefer to cough up the $13/year and call it a day, rather than worrying about a $1,050 for speeding in a church parking lot (Sec. 46.2-864).
The stated purpose of this legislation is to increase highway funds for use in Northern Virginia. There is something utterly perverse in a system which encourages the government to find wrongdoing in order to balance its budget: the criminal system is not a weapon for tax collection.
Sic semper tyrannis.