I'm already being taken to task by several readers for backing stiffer penalties and stricter enforcement to help reduce highway crashes in this country -- the most pointed comment so far being "What part of 'the punitive system has not worked for 75+ years; what makes you think it will work now' don't you understand?"
Three points I'd like to reiterate here. The first is that the punitive portion of our traffic laws, at the local, state, and federal level, only get enforced on a haphazard basis at best today. Paris Hilton and Al Gore III share the dubious honor of being repeat traffic offenders now, yet will still retain their licenses and ability to drive. I don't care about their personal life, mind you -- but driving while intoxicated and/or at super high speeds on the highway (Al Gore III has been busted twice now for going over 100 mph on the highway) puts everyone's life at risk on the road, not just theirs. We need to nail the repeat offenders and make the penalties stick -- period -- for enforcement to work.
The second is that stricter enforcement will only work if common sense reigns supreme on the part of law enforcement. Example: in 1998, Washington D.C. passed one of the first primary seat belt laws in the U.S. Then the police department got this bright idea: on the day the law goes into effect, let's establish check points on several major highway bridges DURING RUSH HOUR, so we can write tickets, make some money, and snarl commuter traffic for HOURS. Inching along by carpool, as a 30 minute commute stretched into 1 and 1/2 hours, I watched several of my compatriots leave choice messages in the voice mail boxes of their Congressmen. That one day justifiably created loads of resentment against seat belt laws and nearly got them repealed. Not the best idea when you are trying to improve highway safety.
OK, point number three, and the one that sticks in a lot of people's craw: higher traffic fines mean more money for local and state coffers. Nothing irritates people more than that thought. But let's look at it another way: if people are going to speed and drive drunk or drugged, regardless of the law and fine structure, they should be the ones to pay for our road maintenance needs. And make sure ALL the money collected in fines goes into road maintenance funds, nowhere else. I mean, why tax everyone? Why not make the habitual offenders pay up? That's my opinion here.