Va. Bad-Driver Fees Could Snag Officials

By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 26, 2007

When Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and House Speaker William J. Howell were mulling over what sort of motorists to target with the state's new abusive-driver fees, they could have drawn on experience: their own run-ins with the law.

In 1997 and 2001, Kaine (D) was ticketed for going 72 and 73 mph in 55 mph zones, court records show. Another three and two miles per hour would have brought charges of reckless driving for going 20 over the speed limit, an offense that now comes with a mandatory $1,050 fee in addition to judge-imposed penalties.

The speaker's foot appears to have a bit more lead in it. In 2002, Howell (R-Stafford) was ticketed for reckless driving, charged with going 75 mph on a Caroline County road, although the charge was reduced to simple speeding -- 74 in a 55 mph zone -- in court, he confirmed.

Kaine and Howell acknowledged speeding but said the offenses do not make them abusive drivers.

Within the past year, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) and House Republican Caucus chairman Terry G. Kilgore (Scott) received speeding tickets in Rockbridge County for driving 80 in a 65 mph zone -- one mile per hour short of a reckless-driving charge, had they exceeded 80mph. Their records show each has an additional speeding violation.

A review of the driving histories of the state's leading lawmakers and those from Northern Virginia shows that they are just as susceptible, if not more so, to the kind of behind-the-wheel behavior that they aimed to curb with the new fees, which have been widely derided since they took effect July 1.

Their driving records were gathered from local courts and personal interviews and may not represent lawmakers' entire driving records.

The fees, which range from $750 to $3,000, were passed by the General Assembly in the spring as part of a package aimed at funding scores of transportation projects. Backers have also said the fees would improve highway safety by cracking down on the state's worst drivers -- those guilty of severe traffic offenses including drunken driving, reckless driving and driving on a suspended license.

But if some of the state's leading lawmakers -- as well as several backbenchers -- qualify, just who are the so-called abusive drivers?

"Just because you get one [ticket for going] 20 miles over, you may not be an abusive driver," Kilgore said. "We probably need to look at that."

Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said in a statement that the governor was not an abusive driver. "Like many Virginians, the Governor has been cited for speeding -- twice in the past ten years. The Governor did not contest the tickets, and paid the fines. Like most typical traffic infractions, neither of these speeding violations would fall under the abusive driving statute."

At a news conference last week, Howell and other Republican leaders said that state police issued 23 percent fewer reckless driving violations and 11 percent fewer speeding tickets in July than in July 2006 -- saying this is evidence that the fees are making motorists slow down. At the same time, Republicans called for changes to the legislation that would exempt some offenses -- including certain types of reckless driving -- from the hefty fees.

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