Virginia’s Grand Theft Auto

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The Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Automobile Association is having difficulty making up its mind about Virginia’s abusive-driver fees. It was for them before it was against them. Now it is for them again. This is unfortunate. AAA usually serves its members well. But motorists in Virginia are outraged that they could be fined $1,050 for staying even with fast-moving traffic on the Capital Beltway. The motorists never asked for the Great Virginia Anti-Personal Bankruptcy Driving Slowdown of 2007. Lawmakers fobbed it onto them. Now Republicans in Virginia want to spread the pain by applying the fines against out-of-state motorists.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the most distinguished Virginians of all, warned against “creating crimes in order to punish them.” Some of these fees violate the Jeffersonian dictum. While stiff penalties for drunk drivers are appropriate, what happened to Charles Mason, fined $1,050 for driving 75 mph in a 55-mph zone on his way to Navy reservist training, is an outrageous example of revenue-chasing run amok. That’s predatory government at its worst.

It’s all about revenue. If this were about public safety and only public safety, perhaps the revenue zealots in the government might be forgiven their zealotry. From square one, this has never been about public safety. The anticipated revenue glues together a painstaking state transportation scheme that Republicans and Democrats alike are desperate to maintain. Everyone knows that “safety” is the fig leaf meant to disguise government greed. Surely Mr. Jefferson would not have run the commonwealth this way.

The Republican contribution to traffic-law enforcement merely compounds the outrage. The Republican Party of Virginia has internal polling showing that voters approve the “enhanced” fines when described in a certain way, and they like the idea of applying them broadly, i.e., against outsiders. Little wonder, that. When you’ve got an albatross, you don’t mind other people sharing it. These add-ons should be eliminated. Confiscating $1,050 from a motorist driving 20 miles an hour over the speed limit is little more than Grand Theft Auto.

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