NEWS- 'Sticker shock': New traffic laws promise fat fines

Think traffic tickets take a bite out of your bank account? Starting July 1, they just might swallow it whole– but only if you're a Virginia resident. That's the result of a new state law that tacks hefty civil fees on already-existing traffic fines for certain driving infractions committed by Virginia drivers on Virginia roads.

For example, if you're caught reckless driving (going 20 mph over the speed limit), you'll pay the standard fine– usually $200. But now you'll also add an additional $1,050 to the Commonwealth's coffers. First time drunk driving used to carry a $300 price tag; add $2,500 to that starting July 1.

What has some people really screaming: out-of-state drivers nabbed while passing through won't have to pay anything beyond the traditional fines, because the fees, legislators claim, are essentially a tax applicable only to residents.

The bill's sponsors, Fairfax Republican Senators David Albo and Thomas Rust, believe the fees– part of the massive Transportation Bill– are a clever way to pay the state's transportation expenses at the same time they try to slow people down and stop dangerous road behavior. 

"It's a totally voluntary charge," says Albo. "If you don't break the law, you don't pay anything." 

Albo and Rust believe the fees will net the state between $65 and $120 million. Smaller speeding tickets and other minor infractions won't be assessed the additional fees, which can be paid over three years in annual installments, with the first one due at the time of conviction.

But critics say the new law will be overly burdensome for poor drivers and may clog courthouses with offenders fighting the charges to avoid the fees.

"It's a huge hardship on people," says defense attorney David Heilburg, who predicts "sticker shock" for many court-bound drivers in the near future. And Heilburg isn't the only local lawyer worried about the consequences.

"It's going to be incredibly bad," says attorney Ford Childress, who, like Heilburg, predicts increased numbers of people will drive on suspended licenses when they're unable to pay the sometimes whopping amounts required to get their licenses reinstated.

Albo defends the fees and bristles at the idea that the fees will unfairly target those of lower socioeconomic status. 

"Do people think that poor people drive illegally?" he asks.

Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds, who voted to pass the Transportation Bill but dislikes the fees, doesn't shy away from answering that rhetorical question.

"Many people with serious driving problems," says Deeds, "have serious economic problems as well." That can include substance abuse issues.

David Dutcher is executive director of James River ASAP, which provides classes that people convicted of DUI, underage drinking, and certain marijuana possession charges are required to take. He worries that heaping fees on top of fines will make it harder for his organization– which relies on the $300 tuition paid by 1,500 clients annually– to collect money for the court-ordered services and may face its own financial difficulties. And even local governments may suffer if judges– who have no discretion over the new civil fees– choose to help drivers by dropping the other fines, which typically go to localities.

Heilburg says there's a better way to pay for new roads.

"Tax is a dirty word," he says, "and that's what this is all about." Adding a five- or 10-cent-per-gallon tax to gasoline, he believes, is a better way to raise money.

To this suggestion, Albo scoffs.

"Gas tax?" he asks. "Yeah, like that has a possibility of ever being passed."

Deeds points out that if the fees do act as a dangerous driving deterrent, they won't raise the predicted funds for roads. "No long term gain was made" by adding the fees, he says.

Childress and Heilberg believe the new fees will be challenged soon after they go into effect, and indeed Fairfax attorney Michael S. Davis says in a June 23 article in the Washington Post that he's already planning a legal challenge based on the fact that only Virginia residents will be slapped with the fines– something he says violates "equal protection" under the U.S. Constitution. Any challenge to the law, however, will likely take years to work through the system.

Unfortunately for Charlottesville drivers, the new state fees aren't the only expensive news. As reported in last week's Hook, Charlottesville City Council recently voted to add a $200 surcharge for speeding on three city roads: Old Lynchburg Road, Altavista Avenue between Monticello and Avon streets, and Avon Street from the city line to Monticello Avenue. 

Mayor David Brown says he and fellow councilors were aware of the new state legislation, and he points out that the city surcharge, which takes effect September 1, will be a six-month trial and that judges will have discretion to levy or remove the fees depending on circumstances.

He admits he has some concern about the fairness of the city's new fees, but he says he's far more concerned about the state legislation. 

"You're taking people who aren't in a position to complain and making them pay," says Brown. "It's a regressive approach to paying for roads, and I think it's going to cause big problems."

Virginia drivers convicted of certain infractions are in for a pricey surprise starting July 1.



In Charlottesville, 'Tards drive faster in neighborhoods than on Rio or Hwy 29....because they can.

For example, go on Rio and you're lucky to go over 30 near Dunlora because there is always that 1 putz driving a train....driving so fuggin slow that there are 50 cars in tow.

So, you're forced to blast thru neighborhoods to avoid the putzes, minivans, and cell-phone yappers clogging arterial roads.

BEST KEPT SECRET: The Belmont alleys. You can run the alleys if you have an SUV, etc, and make better time than the stoplight game.

The above retard sounds like a new resident. Thanks "tard" for telling us your B.K.S. I consider it a public service annoucement. So beware all those who live near the alleys of Belmont. There's some crazed newbie in town that might mow you down to shave a couple of minutes off his/her commute.

I never knew the purpose of laws was to raise money for state projects. I thought laws are supposed to just, fair and fit the crime. If someone from out of state can speed in Virginia and not recieve the same penalty as a virginian, how is that fair? If on 3 roads-- Old Lynchburg Rd, Altavista Avenue and Avon St. a driver will incurr an additional $200 fine, how is that fair? Interesting some of the more modest housing divisions of Charlottesville are located around there. And the purpose of this arbitrary bill is to raise money, but if it is putting virginian citizens in jail who are unable to pay these exborbinant fines and therefore unable to work, how is that helping the economy? It seems like a very shortsighted, punitive, unjust and arbitrary law.

Anne, it's all about money. On both the local and state levels, as both have adopted fat fines in traffic matters. It's much easier than cutting back on spending. And they know the taxpayers don't have a spine to fight back with like was the case in the Boston Tea Party. We're just a spineless race of Lemmings.... and pretty damn close to communist Lemmings as everything we earn going to the states and localities nowadays.

OK, OK, I'm tired of us lemmings always getting a bum rap. Sure, we're herbivorous rodents like rats, mice and hamsters, but we've got feelings too, ya know.

And while we might migrate together in large herds, the notion that we'll line up single file and collectively jump off of cliffs, or go for a group swim on a hot day and wind up drowning en masse are just plain wrong.

It’s all about self-esteem. What’s an animal gotta do to get a little respect from you bipeds anyway? Be a sellout like the Geico Gecko? At least he's getting paid. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone used a disparaging phrase like Steve just did about us Lemmings not having the gumption to stand up and fight for what we believe in; just for the sake of making a silly point that has nothing to do with us.

Besides, what with Johnny not being able to read and all these days, how many people even know what a Lemming is anymore? I think if I were human I'd stick to talking about what I know and using some better analogies. Maybe something along the lines of referencing your Jim Jones followers. Or maybe even your holocaust victims. We Lemmings stand head and shoulders above that type of madness!

Does any one have a complete list of the polititians NOT to vote for next election who came up with/support these outrageous traffic fine laws?

i think that if Virginia residents should have to pay the hefty fine out of state residents should too because they broke the law either way if the sign says the speed limit is 25 and they go 45 they know what there doing it's common sense you break the law you get fined so if Virginia residents have to pay these extreme fines so should out of state residents