Wimping out

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"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." -- W.B. Yeats


Though I am quoting from Yeats' poetical masterpiece "The Second Coming" here, I am NOT saying that Armageddon is just around the corner. But I feel, at least, that the now-floundering effort by Virginia to levy bigger fines against REPEAT traffic offenders -- the worst drivers, mind you, the ones driving drunk or 20 mph over the speed limit -- shows that the general public is losing its sense when it comes to highway safety issues.


I've mentioned Viriginia's effort to boost fines in this space before, but again let me repeat what the beef is over: new civil penalties for going 20 mph over the speed limit are now $1,050, plus $61 in court costs PLUS a fine that is typically about $200. A first-time drunken driver faces a $2,250 civil penalty, plus fines and court costs that typically run about $500 or more. Driving without a license? That‘s a mandatory $900 civil penalty, in addition to the ordinary $100 for a fine and court costs. These charges ONLY apply to in-state residents, by the way, and Virginians must pay them in three installments over 26 months or lose their licenses.


Once the rules were put in place, of course, the public bleating began -- screams about infringing on 'constituional rights' and how these fines would unfairly burden the poor. Over 100,000 Virginians signed an electronic petition on the Internet calling for their repeal and several local newspaper editors hinted darkly that these new fines were part of a conspiracy concocted by real estate developers and their political cronies to get the public to pay for road improvements for new subdivisions.


Spare me all of this crap, please.


Look, here's the deal: these fines ONLY apply if you SEVERELY break the law. It's not for going 1 mph over the limit. It's for 20 mph, as in 45 mph in a 25 mph zone or 85 mph on a highway posted for 65 mph. Or drunks. Or people that do NOT have a license. In other words, these fines target the worst of the worst -- the folks that cause the accidents that run up our state and local tax bills for the damage and hurt THEY cause.


One reader took me to task over my support for these new fines because, in his words, punitive measures have not worked in the past, so why would they work now? This is true -- maybe they won't change the behaviors on the part of bad drivers. But then the state gets more money from THEM if they don't, meaning the REST of US don't get our taxes raised to fund road improvements (Virigina estimated these new fines would generate $65 million a year. We must have a LOT of bad drivers in my state.)


Again, all the hand wringing overlooks some very blatant facts -- you do NOT pay a DIME if you do the following: DON‘T SPEED, DON‘T DRIVE DRUNK, DON‘T DRIVE WITHOUT YOUR LICENSE. I mean, people! How easy is this? Are we THAT far gone in this country?


Now, one of the arguments against these new fines is that if the state takes away the licences of those who fail to pay, you end up with thousands of unlicensed and uninsured motorists driving on the roads (according to the great state of Michigan's experience with a similar path of traffic jurisprudence). Well, then, take their cars away too. But what if you need a car to get to work? Take the bus, take the train, ride a bike, or thumb a ride from a co-worker. You prove to be a problem driver, you don't drive -- period. End of story. You don't have a right to threaten everyone else's safety out there if you have a lead foot -- dangerous driving is not protected by the Constitution.


Look: vehicle crashes cost us as a nation $230 BILLION a year -- and that tab is picked up by every single one of us via higher taxes and car insurance premiums. Why not force the problem drivers to shoulder the extra burden, since THEY are the ones causing the problems? I mean, since bad drivers pay higher insurance premiums, why not pay higher fines too? It's just not fair to those of us that follow the rules to pick up the costs for those that don't. That's my feeling on this.

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