Virginians Upset Over Steep Penalties for State’s Repeat Bad Drivers

By | July 2, 2007

The Virginia General Assembly may have to address the issue of punitive and recurring bad-driving fees imposed solely on Virginians, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine told a statewide radio audience last week.

For the second time in three days, callers upset about the law that took effect Sunday pressed the governor on a live radio question-and-answer show.

“That was kind-of the format of the bill when it reached me and I didn’t change that feature,” Kaine said in response to a question e-mailed to his monthly show on WRVA in Richmond and the Virginia News Network about the out-of-state exemption.

“I think that’s something the legislature may address in the future,” Kaine said.

The “abusive driver” measures impose “civil remedial fees” paid in three annual installments that could top $1,000 for such offenses as driving under the influence of alcohol or reckless driving. The fees are in addition to steep existing fines and, in some cases, jail time and drivers license suspensions.

They were passed by the General Assembly this year as part of the first transportation funding reforms in 21 years and are intended to make the worst drivers pay a greater share of the costs of new highways needed statewide.

They were enacted as fees, not fines, so that the revenue could be applied exclusively to road construction. The state Constitution directs all fines into the state Literary Fund, which helps build new schools and supplement teacher retirement.

The fees also are imposed on people who, through too many speeding tickets or lesser traffic violations, accumulate eight or more demerit points on their driving records beginning July 1. Those fees are $100 a year for as long as there are eight or more demerit points, plus $75 for each demerit beyond eight.

Because they are civil fees and lack the enforcement authority of a fine, they will be collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles as a condition for renewing Virginia automobile registrations or licenses. That’s why the fee can only be collected from Virginia residents.

Kaine said he saw the exclusion in the bill but signed it anyway. He did remove a proposal that would have retroactively counted demerit points accrued before July 1.

“I’ve got to say there were options on the table for financing a system that would have applied to out-of-staters like a gas tax and things like that. The public overwhelmingly didn’t want that, the legislature didn’t want it, so this was one of a number of items we put on the table to raise funds,” Kaine said.

The outcry among Virginians has increased over the past week as news reports, radio talk shows and blogs have taken up the issue. In a similar talk show last Tuesday on WTOP radio in Washington, callers also pressed the governor on the abusive driving fees and their exclusive application to Virginians.

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