Bye, bye fines

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The death-knell has sounded for Virginia‘s controversial abusive driver fines, so for all the readers that thought these were a bad idea, your wish is coming true. Virginia‘s Governor, Tim Kaine (D), said in his annual “State of the Commonwealth” address that “the abusive-driver fee idea has flunked with voters, and we should acknowledge it an move on.” Many Virginia Republicans praised Kaine‘s position on the fees, which pretty much means they are headed for the trash bin.


The abusive-driver fines in question were civil penalties drawn up to fine drivers going 20 mph over the speed limit $1,050, plus $61 in court costs, in ADDITION to existing fines that typically total $200. Also, a first-time drunken driver faced a $2,250 civil penalty - plus fines and court costs that typically run about $500 or more - under the abusive-fee regime, while driving without a license came with a mandatory $900 civil penalty in addition to the ordinary $100 for a fine and court costs.


Many reasons are being trotted out for the failure of these fines, probably the biggest being that they only applied to in-state residents. That stuck in everyone‘s craw, because if you didn‘t pay them in three installments over 26 months, you‘d lose your license: not so for someone from Ohio or any of the other 49 states in the Union.


And apparently so many people HADN‘T paid them that Virginia planned to revoke 300,000 licenses over the next two years, according to a story in the Virginia Business Magazine. Non-payment of fines also meant that the state didn‘t get much of the $65 million in revenues it expected: monies lawmakers were hoping to use for road repairs.


Never mind, of course, that you would never encounter these fines if you did three simple things: DON‘T DRIVE DRUNK, DON‘T SPEED, DON‘T DRIVE WITHOUT YOUR LICENSE. Gee, wow: guess we can‘t manage to do anything that simple in my state. And the numbers prove it, too: over 1,000 people died in traffic accidents in Virginia last year: a number we haven‘t seen in my state since 1990.


Several readers wrote in to tell me that fines like this don‘t improve highway safety: indeed, they told me, punitive highway safety measures don‘t work in the U.S. overall. Just look at the numbers - 43,300 people died on our highways in 2006, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation, with another 2.56 million sustaining injuries from highway crashes.


The DOT estimates that highway crashes cost this country of ours $230.6 billion a year, roughly $820 annually for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Those numbers fluctuate up and down a few hundred, but by and large, that‘s been the death toll for many years


And we seem to so blithely accept this!! I mean, drunk drivers killed 17,941 people in 2006 ALONE! And most drunk drivers are repeat offenders, folks that get caught again and again behind the wheel rocked out of their minds ... yet manage to keep their license and the keys to their vehicles. Sure, Public Citizen is after the trucking industry, trying to find a way to reduce the 5,018 people killed in car-truck collisions ... too bad no one wants to take the same approach to drunk drivers, who kill more than three times as many innocent people.


So, OK, abusive-driver fines are on the way out and we probably won‘t see them again. But here we are left facing a yearly pile of bodies on our highways with no one - politicians and John Q. Public as well - willing to seriously address it. We‘re driving more and more miles, at faster and faster speeds, and we don‘t seem to care that a lot of people are getting killed in the process. I thought the abusive-drive fine regime would work. Obviously, it didn‘t. You tell me what the answer is. I for one think killing 43,000 people a year due to chronic bad driving is a horrible statistic we shouldn‘t be willing to accept.

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