Monday, March 20, 2006

NJ, MD & VA to dangerous drivers: Pay the bribe, keep your license
Virginia mulls bad-driver fees to save budget

RICHMOND -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and General Assembly lawmakers want lousy drivers to help balance the state's budget and ease congested roads.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled House and Senate are each pushing "abuser-fee" programs that annually fine drivers for the number of points on their driving record or if they have been convicted of a serious offense such as drunken driving. The fines would be in addition to court fees and insurance surcharges…

For example, drivers going 10 to 19 mph over the speed limit would receive four points under Virginia law and have to pay a $100 fine for three consecutive years. They also would have to pay $75 for each additional point. Drivers convicted of drunken driving would be tagged with six points and be fined $700 for three consecutive years. Drivers who fail to pay would have their license suspended…

The proposals are based on a program the New Jersey Legislature established in the early 1980s that now generates $139 million a year, said Lee Jackson, manager of the state's Insurance Surcharge Program…Maryland also has extra charges for bad drivers. Motorists who have so many points that their license has been either suspended or revoked can ask for a hearing, but the request comes with a mandatory, $125 filing fee…

The report also says license suspensions often have "serious, albeit unintended" consequences, including motorists losing their jobs and driving without a license or insurance.

About 800,000 suspension orders are mailed annually to licensed New Jersey drivers, and the main reason is failure to pay the surcharges, according to the report. The state has about 6 million drivers.

Virginia has about 5.2 million licensed drivers. As of last week, the state had mailed nearly 410,000 suspension notices.

"Those who will be hit the hardest by abuser fees will not have the money to pay, and they will be the ones driving on a suspended permit," said Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "Therefore, everyone loses in that regard, and [the suspended driver] will ultimately lose because they will get caught."

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