According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), half of all traffic congestion is "non-recurring" -- i.e., not caused by overloaded roads. Weather can be blamed for about 10 percent of such non-recurring problems and work zones for another 20 percent. But 25 percent of non-recurring congestion, according to the FHWA, is caused by "incidents" such as accidents involving inattention, speeding, red-light running, left-lane hogging and other bad behavior, as well as by disabled vehicles.

Why are we so tolerant of people who take the privilege of driving so lightly that they are willing to take risks that can endanger lives and cripple our transportation network?

Virginia's point system for driving offenses ascribes a numerical value to every type of offense and requires a 90-day suspension of a driver's license if 18 points are accumulated within 12 months, or 24 points within 24 months. But the system is full of loopholes that make it fairly easy for habitual offenders to remain behind the wheel.

Five points, for example, can be deducted by completing a driver-improvement course. Today, a driver tearing up Interstate 95 or ripping through Disputanta on Route 460 or Middletown on Route 11 could be pulled over for a third reckless-driving offense in a year and still drive home from court. This point system needs to be stricter.

As a result of such leniency, only about 25,000 of Virginia's 5 million licensed drivers lose their driving privileges annually.

Opponents of stricter demands on drivers will point out that our society requires most people to have a car. Gone are the days when Richmond's tobacco-plant workers, Newport News's stevedores, Roanoke's brakemen and Charlottesville's professors could be found living within blocks of their respective workplaces.


Our sympathies should go to the victims of the haste, carelessness and inattention of some drivers, not to those who would have to find an alternative way to get to work. Our hearts should go out to those who work hard and are entitled to a ride home that does not take twice as long as it should, partly because of misbehavior by some of their fellow drivers.

Steel and concrete will go just so far in fixing what ails our commonwealth's transportation network, and it is time for Virginia's three gubernatorial candidates to say exactly that.

-- Nancy Rodrigues