Hefty Fees In Store for Misbehaving Va. Drivers
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Attention Virginians: The cost of bad driving is about to go up. Way up.
Say you are driving 78 mph on the Capital Beltway and a state trooper tickets you for "reckless driving -- speeding 20 mph over." You will probably be fined $200 by the judge. But then you will receive a new, additional $1,050 fine from the Old Dominion, payable in three convenient installments. So convenient that you must pay the first one immediately, at the courthouse.
First-time drunk driver? A $300 fine from the judge and a $2,250 fee from the commonwealth.
Driving without a license? Maybe a $75 fine. Definitely a $900 fee from Virginia.
As part of the plan to fund the annual $1 billion transportation package approved this year, state legislators endorsed a new set of "civil remedial fees" for all misdemeanor and felony traffic violations, such as speeding 20 mph above the limit, reckless driving and, in some cases, driving with faulty brakes. Drivers with points on their licenses -- a speeding ticket usually earns four points -- will be hit for $75 for every point above eight and $100 for having that many points in the first place.
The new fees will go into effect July 1, and defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges expect chaos. Court clerks fear having to deal with angry hordes learning about the fees for the first time at the payment window.
"I think that we will be overwhelmed," said Nancy L. Lake, clerk of the Fairfax County General District Court, which includes the busiest traffic court in the state. "We feel we're going to take a lot of flack."
The fees will be imposed only on Virginia residents. All defendants must pay the fines, but the "abuser fees," as Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) calls them, are part of the state licensing fees and cannot be imposed on out-of-state drivers.
Standard traffic infractions, such as low-level speeding and running a stop sign, do not carry the fees. The state courts posted the fees and eligible offenses this month.
Albo and Del. Thomas D. Rust (R-Fairfax), who co-sponsored the fee legislation, project that $65 million to $120 million will be raised annually to cover costs of snow removal, pothole repair and grass-mowing. Money for Northern Virginia's congested roads had to come from somewhere, they reasoned, and new taxes were not going to fly in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates.
The people who will be caught up in the new fees say the first wave of chaos will hit in early August, when the first tickets issued under the new law arrive in courthouses.
Traffic court judges fear they will see a huge increase in trials, with defendants unwilling to plead guilty because they know they will face additional fees.