Virginia bad-driver fees could see changes

| 7/31/2007

Gov. Tim Kaine said he is standing by the recent increase in fines for certain driving violations, to the chagrin of many Virginia drivers.

The governor, however, said that reimbursing certain car and truck drivers who pay abusive-driver fees is something that might be considered if the General Assembly amends the law next year.

“We might have the ability to do reimbursements,” Kaine told The Associated Press. “I’m not going to commit to that, but if there’s a decision made by the legislature, that’s one option they could consider.”

The fee increases are part of the state’s long-term road-building plan. Of particular interest to Virginia truckers, it includes provisions to boost penalties for overweight trucks and heavy truck registration fees. It also increases the state’s 16-cent-per-gallon tax on diesel to 17.5 cents.

Nonresidents are immune from the stiffer penalties.

Other elements of the $3 billion plan rely on higher fines for the state’s worst drivers, tolls, tax and fee increases, surplus money and possible regional taxing authorities for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Supporters say the new fees do not apply to basic speeding and traffic violations. They will, however, apply to drunken drivers, driving in excess of 20 mph over the speed limit and other, more serious acts.

Residents statewide have been outspoken in their discontent for the “civil remedial fees” since they took effect July 1. The fees are payable in three annual payments ranging from $300 to $1,000 for violations made by “abusive drivers.”

Floating the idea of refunds was offered by the governor as a trade-off for calls to convene a special session to repeal the fees that are intended to target habitual traffic violators and those who commit the most serious offenses, The Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, VA, reported. Kaine and other advocates would rather make any needed changes after the 2008 regular session starts in January.

Refunds are a possibility because the revenue from the fees has not been budgeted, The AP reported.

In the meantime, Kaine is asking for more time to study the effectiveness of the fees in reducing wrecks and dangerous driving.

“If it comes back that there’s no safety effect at all, then obviously that would be an important factor,” Kaine told The AP.

Also on the agenda for the next session is clarifying provisions in the bill and including out-of-state drivers in the new fines.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia in 2007, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor