- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

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.

“People who abuse the roads are the ones who should pay for them,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican. “It is going to make people more careful.”

Lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a two-year budget when the General Assembly session ended March 11. Eleven of the lawmakers have remained in Richmond to reach a compromise on the House and Senate budgets, which include the fees program.

They will attempt to present a budget compromise to the full General Assembly when it reconvenes March 27 for a special session.

The House plan would, as of July 15, fine drivers who have four or more points, which are assessed for such violations as speeding, running red lights and reckless driving. The drivers would have to pay $100 to $1,000 a year for three consecutive years if they want to continue driving.

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 Senate and Mr. Kaine have similar plans but want to fine drivers with eight or more points.

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.

“In the past couple of years, a lot of states have been calling,” he said. “Most states are looking for any income like that they can get.”

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 Virginia House plan would generate about $94 million in 2007 and as much as $180 million by 2009, said Robert Vaughn, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee.

The governor’s plan would bring in an estimated $67 million in 2007 and as much as $134 million in 2010, said administration spokeswoman Delacey Skinner.

Senate lawmakers expect their program to collect about $50 million to $75 million a year.

However, the program has some serious consequences that have raised concerns for some Virginia lawmakers.

A report released last month by the New Jersey Motor Vehicles Affordability and Fairness Task Force shows low-income motorists are hit hardest by the New Jersey program — one of four such programs in the country.

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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