Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Speeding and budgets: Conflict of Interest

Jerry Stratton, April 1, 2006

Virginia wants more money. To get it, they’re hoping for lots of drivers to “drive too fast”.

The price of buying a car, titling and insuring it and the fines for driving it too fast would increase, yielding $3.7 billion and nearly doubling state outlays for roads and public transit the next four years under Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s transportation plan.

According to James J. Baxter of the National Motorists Association, the proposal will charge an extra $100 for having four points on your license, plus an extra $75 per point after that.

While Virginia governor Timothy Kaine, and long-term proponent David Albo of the Virginia legislature, call it punishing dangerous drivers, Baxter calls it “code for further ripping off” drivers. “Receiving a traffic ticket has a lot more to do with how much someone drives, rather than how they drive.”

One of the big problems with laws such as this is that they have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with revenue.

The fiscal estimate calls for this law to generate $600 million dollars in state revenue. This is 30 percent of the total money programmed for highway projects!

If the law does not punish unsafe activity then it’s an unfair “user fee” for drivers. If the law truly punishes unsafe activity, the law is counter-productive: the state needs those lawbreakers to make its revenue targets. It’s a huge conflict of interest. In other areas of traffic law, we see governments designing their roads so as to encourage drivers to break the laws.

The most egregious are when red-light cameras are installed and yellow light times are kept shorter than engineering guidelines recommend, resulting in more dangerous intersections. For red-light cameras this problem is exacerbated by profit-sharing plans that share profits from violations with the companies that make the red-light cameras. Such plans mean that the companies that make (and often install) the product are also encouraged to reduce the safety of intersections where their product is installed.

That’s just one example of how the millions of dollars in traffic fines create a conflict of interest that results in a desire for more violations.

If you look at David Albo’s web page, he brags that he has brought his district “more transportation funding than any other area”. That money has to come from somewhere. But it turns out this is not Albo’s only conflict of interest when it comes to designing traffic laws.

In real life, Albo is a Virginia traffic lawyer. He defends drivers who have come under the “stressful and complicated” Virginia traffic laws, where “the stakes are high”.

If this proposal passes, the stakes will definitely be high, and should drive many more drivers to traffic lawyers such as Albo. With a four-point threshold, it takes only two tickets for driving one mile above the speed limit to incur a $250 fine above the already existing fine for driving one mile above the speed limit.

If, after that first speed limit for driving one mile above the speed limit, you start driving below the speed limit in order to avoid further tickets, well, all you need is one ticket for “impeding traffic” to incur that $250 fine.

If you drive at exactly the speed limit to avoid both a speeding fine and an impeding traffic fine, don’t worry, you’re still covered if the officer thinks you were “exceeding a reasonable speed, regardless of any posted speed limit.”

  • speeding 10 to 19 MPH above the speed limit: 4 points
  • exceeding a reasonable speed: 3 points
  • speeding 1 to 9 MPH above the speed limit: 3 points
  • impeding traffic: 3 points

If you don’t think that drivers get stopped for driving just a few miles above the limit, or for vague and impossible to defend against violations such as “exceeding a reasonable speed” and “impeding traffic”, you’re probably white and drive a nice car. And one without any political bumper stickers.

It is dangerous for governments to make money from lawbreakers. There is always the tendency to want more money and thus to expand the definitions of who is a lawbreaker. For traffic laws, this conflict of interest extends throughout the system: local and state governments, traffic equipment manufacturers, and individual legislators.

  1. <- Simplified Welfare
  2. Mistakes were made ->