Heavier fines for Virginia's bad drivers hit dead end

| Friday, February 18, 2005

A bill that would have levied hefty fines on the worst-of-the-worst drivers died in a Virginia Senate panel Feb. 16.

The revenue generated – estimated at $180 million a year – would have been used to help support a House transportation initiative approaching $1 billion.

Under the “abuser fee” approach, Virginia drivers who compile numerous misdemeanor convictions for moving violations would have been hit with fees ranging from $250 to $750.

The Senate Finance Committee voted down the proposal 8-4 more than a week after the House endorsed the measure.

Motorists convicted of a serious traffic offense would have paid extra fees in addition to the criminal fines imposed by a court.

The plan set the fees, charged annually for three years, at $200 for driving with a suspended license, $350 for aggressive or reckless driving and $300 for driving while intoxicated.

Virginia drivers who rack up four or more demerit points on their driving records would have been hit with increased fines of $300 a year for two years and $100 more in the third year.

The bill – HB1563 – allowed drivers with a large number of demerits on their records to take a safe-driving class and get five points taken off their driving records, enough to avoid the increased fines.

Delegate Thomas D. Rust, R-Fairfax, the bill’s co-sponsor, urged its passage “to generate much-needed funds for transportation and, secondarily, to emphasize how important safe driving is to the commonwealth.”

Delegate David B. Albo, R-Fairfax, another of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the state desperately needed the money it would raise.

“There is a massive congestion problem in this state,” Albo told The Washington Post, adding, “You have a choice: The average citizen can pay, or the people who abuse our roads can pay.”

Senators said that the fines were too high and that they would be levied only on Virginia drivers. They questioned whether the fines would be a stable source of funding and insisted a statewide fuel tax hike would be fairer.

“Don’t you think this perpetuates the myth we can fix our transportation problems without the average person paying for it?” asked Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

A fuel tax boost of 5 cents a gallon would be a fairer way to pay for transportation improvements, Saslaw said, and would raise about the same amount of money.

Legislators, however, have been unwilling to hike taxes for roads for fear of voter backlash. This November, the entire 100-seat House is up for re-election.

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