One definition of injustice is grossly disproportionate punishment. You don’t put people into prison for a year because they jaywalked. So what do we make of Virginia’s new “civil remedial fines” that slam ordinary motorists with thousand-dollar fines (payable in “three easy installments”) for relatively minor traffic violations?
Beginning July 1, a driver caught doing 20 mph over the posted limit is subject to just such a fine. That means 76 mph in a 55 zone — and a rude awakening for hapless motorists pinched in a radar trap. You may feel a driver doing 20 over the limit deserves punishment. But $1,000 — plus another few hundred for the charge itself, plus court costs? When all is said and done, expect to be relieved of around $1,500 — before the insurance company jackals get to you.
Guys who stick up 7-Elevens suffer less meaningful punishment.
Thank the Motor Gods the 55 mph highway limit is gone — else we’d all be in the poorhouse PDQ. Still, under-posted limits (and their attendant radar traps) are alive and well on secondary roads. We all know of broad avenues that seem to drop for no apparent reason from 55 to 35 mph — typically, with a motorcycle cop hiding behind a bush just beyond where the drop goes into force. It has always been unfair. Now, it’s egregious. What had been, essentially, simple speeding is now to be classed, in terms of its punishment, with felonies such as vehicular manslaughter — also subject to the same $1,000 fine. Doing 76 in a 55? Killing someone? Hey, it’s basically the same thing, right?
But that’s not the end of it.
Forget to get your motorcycle endorsement? That’ll be another $300, chief — on top of whatever fines the DMV attaches to such offenses. Drive without a license? That’ll be $900. Plus “costs.” (For the entire list, see this pdf.)
Perhaps the sneakiest element of the new policy, though, is the way it goes after virtually anyone who ever gets a ticket — any type of ticket. Accrue 8 DMV demerit points, for whatever reason, and you’ll get a bill for $75 per point — and a $100 surcharge for simply having that many points to begin with. So even a few trivial speeding tickets (three to four “points” each) can lead to not-so-trivial fines. Keep in mind that the DMV holds onto your record — and holds any ticketable offense against you — for three to five years.
It’s all automatic, too.
Unlike standard traffic fines, which are at least subject to a judge’s discretion, the new “civil remedial fees” are completely non-negotiable. Fail to pay and the hounds of the state (and debt collectors) will pursue you to the ends of the earth. Plus your license will be suspended or revoked until such time as you “stand and deliver” — as stage coach robbers once so nicely put it.
That phrase is particularly apt since the “civil remedial fines” were passed precisely to fund highway projects and maintenance. Its chief sponsor, Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) says, “Hey, roads cost money — and there’s no road fairy.”
Even nicer, only in-state drivers will be forced to cough up the dough — raising serious questions about equal protection of the law, and plain basic fairness. A New York driver cruising down I-81 on his way to Tennessee gets caught doing 85 mph; he pays the “standard” fine for that offense under Virginia’s traffic laws — typically, a couple hundred bucks at most. But a Virginia licensed driver caught doing exactly the same thing is looking at $1,500 — plus the “hidden” fees that will come every year as a result of his DMV points. Over a three-to-five-year period the tab could soar to several thousand dollars.
There is real concern about ability to pay — and not just for the poor. For a middle-income schoolteacher earning, say, $40k annually, a $1,000 fine might be more than just an outrage. It could well be beyond her ability to pay.
And regardless: The question here isn’t about punishing traffic violators. It’s about excessive and therefore unjust punishment. The late Sam Francis coined the incisive term, “anarcho-tyranny,” to describe this state of affairs. In essence, the state grows ever more hard-hearted toward relatively trivial offenses that almost never involve either violence against individuals or even against property — while at the same time it becomes ever more blithe toward real crime and real criminals.
It is a loathsome state of affairs. And when it’s done for the most cynical of reasons (to raise revenue to fund state projects) and in the most cowardly manner imaginable (by state lawmakers too timid to fund needed projects via normal budgetary means) with the effect being a vicious and disproportionate impact upon minor transgressors — it is the very definition of tyranny.
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