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July 19, 2007

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West

"More than ten thousand Virginians have, apparently, already signed a petition against the new law"

As of today, the number of signatures is over 137,000.

TCleary

My guess is that people are a lot worse at putting a number on future expenses than you may think. I imagine that people accept a tax on tobacco or gas simply because it is a reasonable amount. I don't think tax payers perform any sort of calculus about social cost when they assess a tax. (A social cost may justify the existence of a tax for a taxpayer but it probably does not inform how they consider the amount.) Rather, consumers are willing to tack on an extra few bucks to a pack of cigarettes because we're still only talking about $8 times whatever one smokes per week. And while drivers will certainly gripe about a $120 ticket, they don't go running to news stations because $120 is reasonable--not because the amount is an accurate estimate of the social cost of speeding times the risk of harm. So even though $1K may or may not better reflect the actual harm, the amount surpasses people's ideas about what is reasonable and therefore fails their standard for assessing a tax.

jimbino

I happily drive uninsured, reasoning that the fine I would incur in being stopped, as I am about once every ten years, is much lower than the financial losses I would incur in paying insurance premiums.

I guess the residents of El Paso, 50% of whom drive uninsured, understand that calculus.

West

Driving uninsured is not smart. Are you joking?

BAC

Perhaps we prefer a $1,000 tax to a $1,000 penalty because we can financially plan for the tax but don't know whether or not we will be ticketed for speeding and therefore can't (or won't) plan for it financially.

But maybe there is a way around that problem. Suppose that when you registered your vehicle you had to make a $1,000 safe driving deposit. The state would refund the $1,000 if you had a clear driving record for the year, but one speeding ticket means no deposit.

West

I have yet to understand why the G.A. didn't simply raise the gas tax. True, sales taxes are always regressive but it's the best option; the more you drive, the more you pay.

It has always seemed to me that fines associated with misconduct should be a deterrent first and a revenue source second. I find it troubling that the well being of our state roads is now depending on a certain number of people to speed and drive drunk.

Kimball Corson

Higher fines to build better roads so you can go faster and pay more and higher fines. Hum.

Sarah

I don't see why it's problematic to apply the law only to state residents. After all, isn't part of the rationale for these fines an assumption that people are typically speeders or non-speeders? That is, we're fine with making speeding a strict-liability offense, because we think one instance of speeding is likely to be indicative of a general tendency to speed. So it's relatively easy to calculate the proper amount of a fine that internalizes social cost discounted by probability of getting caught, assuming that the cited individual's incidence of speeding is 100%. But out-of-staters, though they may be habitual speeders, are not habitual IN-STATE speeders, and so a fine that internalizes costs for state residents greatly overstates the social cost imposed by transient out-of-state speeders (unless we think, for some reason, that they're far less likely to be caught in any particular instance).

saul levmore

I'm not sure I would say problematic, rather than surprising or contrary to the usual "problem." It is revealing of the revenue-raising goal, and just possibly (as suggested in the post) drafted as it was to avoid challenges by non-residents. But turning to the interesting point about internalizing and predicting (uncaught) speeding, I think I disagree. A good state ought to care about the social costs imposed by speedsters wherever they may be. Imagine a much-traveled driver who spends time in forty states but little time in any one, including the home state. We want the state who catches this driver at 100mph to do something serious, and not to act as if the state's job is simply to calculate the in-state dangers caused by this driver.

BAC

And don't forget the enforcement problem caused by a dual-fine system. Who is the VA trooper more likely to pull over: (1) a VA resident going slightly over the limit subject to a $1,000 fine, or (2) a MD resident going dramatically above the limit whose maxmimum fine is $150?

If all the VA drivers slow down, but the out of state drivers speed up (because of lower enforcement), is it possible that increasing only VA resident fines would lower highway safety?

bcowan

According to what I am calling Constructive Idealism, the place to begin the analysis is with the recognition that precepts which connect fines with deterrence and taxes with revenue are complex abstractions which attempt to reflect and yet can only relate symbolically to widespread pre-linguistic, vague intuitions concerning the ideal commonwealth. We should not, therefore, expect a statute which seeks to portray one aspect of these connections to bear too heavy a burden of accuracy. The best a statute can probably do is akin to what artistic expression can do with aesthetic intuitions: evoke and even, exceptionally, satisfy them temporarily.

Accordingly, the discomfort expressed by some Virginians may be due to their reaction to an inartistically mixed metaphor. There may never be an appealing, let alone a self-evidently correct, statutory formulation of a state's effort to characterize pervasive unlawful behavior as a revenue opportunity. The difficulty of passing statutes allowing what many consider ugly and exploitative behavior on the condition only that the participants pay taxes for the privilege (I have in mind the prostitution and marijuana businesses and, in many places, the gambling business, although these involve a different kind of symbolic proposition, to be sure) hints at the presence of a strongish feeling that revenue and deterrence are axiologically different, notwithstanding that you can count taxes and fines in the same monetary units.

It may be that people really do not want to drive on new roads that they feel are paved in part with the blood and bones of speeding victims.

LAK

We should be pricing people out of behaviors left and right. It is the way to regulate behavior without outright prohibitions.$1000 parking fines sound good becasue people won't in fact circle for 30 minutes instead of double parking. They'll take a cab or public transportation.

We should be taxing gasoline consumption and spend that money on building clean and efficient public transportation. We should tax energy consumption, and people mightstart turning off their lights or using the dryer less. It is a great way to requilibrate social systems because change can happen gradually and those who need to change their ways due to money concerns will help pave the way.

"Should be justified by a cost-benefit analysis" seems like a spotty standard though. Sometimes it takes time for systems to re-requilibrate. If you start fining people for double parking, they may drive around like idiots for an hour looking for a spot, and one could argue that this is not justified from a costs standpoint, but in reality you'd have to wait for behavior to change meaningfully before you could make such an assessment, or you would have to help other outcomes happen, by say adequately funding public transportation at the same time you increase fines for double parking.

[I'm also for driving tests with teeth. if 85% of the public thinks they're in the top half of drivers, make them prove it. That'll take many speeders and double parkers off the road]

AMC

When did driving become a right?

It is a privilage. This just puts the burdon onto those who choose to drive.

Lugo

I suppose Virginia could have tried to be just a bit more populist by saying that the fine would be $1,000 for anyone earning less than $50,000 per year, and $2,000 for anyone reporting income above that, but such a system becomes expensive to administer and then raises other legal objections.

Virginia gets every resident's tax returns every year. Why should they have a problem linking this to traffic fines?

My own view is that I pay taxes all the time, but I get traffic tickets hardly ever. I pay taxes regardless of my behavior, but traffic fines result from avoidable behavior. I would thus FAR prefer a large increase to traffic fines than a small increase in taxes.

Jon Stout

The State of Virginia in their attemptto raise reveue for out of control spending, has not thought this concept through.

Many drivers in the past paid reasonable fines and at least thought about slowing down. Courts were not overburdened by endless litigation. Now I believe many drivers will fight and this will be a burden.

As an example, before this new law, exceeding the speed limit by 20 mph or more was considered reckless driving in Virginia and a court appearance was manadatory.

Most police officers wrote the citation at 19mph or less because they did not want to increase their court appearances and the drivers usually admitted their mistake and paid the fine.

Last April I was stopped for driving 78 mph in a 55 mph zone - reckless driving and a court appearance. I was clearly in the wrong and decided to go to court, plead guilty and pay whatever fine was required.

However, luckily I consulted an attorney who explained the penalties for reckless driving (very high fines, possible suspension of license, high insurance rates and possible jail sentence.

Bottom line - I paid the attorney $1500 and the case was dismissed on a technicality.

The officer had to come to court on his day off (my attorney requested a postponement that changed the officer's schedule), court time was wasted, no fines or court costs, same low insurance rates and I was out $1500. Innocence instead of guilt!

The point is, when you push people into a corner through unreasonable laws -- they tend to push back!

Tamara

Please tell EVERYONE that you know (and don't know for that matter)!!!

Link to Texas Driver Responsibility Program Petition
Driver Responsibility Program Petition!!!

~Many thanks!!!
Tamara

Imagine this: You receive a ticket for an expired driver’s license; you go to court, pay your fine, and remember in the future to renew your license on time. You’re done, right? WRONG! Many months later in the mail you may or may not receive a letter explaining the TX Driver Responsibility Program and that you must also pay a fine to the state (in addition to the city in which the offense occurred) every year for three years. If you fail to do so for whatever reason, your license may become suspended, with or without your notification or knowledge. This means that if you are stopped for let’s say a license plate cover on your car, and the officer runs your license, you can be arrested and taken to jail for not paying the surcharge (regardless if you’ve renewed you license, have never received any notification letters or have no idea that you owed money), or even for paying late. Not paying the surcharge suspends your license, and driving with a suspended license is illegal. You can then be arrested regardless of a lack of notification on the government’s part.

Around the time of spring finals, my boyfriend was pulled over for a frivolous reason and then arrested for driving with a suspended license. Apparently, his license (and mine as I would later find out) had been suspended for almost a year, yet we had no idea, and no notification. After an exhausting and financially debilitating journey to end the nightmare, I began my research on this new, mind-boggling law that seemed too cruel to actually exist. I was surprised by the vast number of people who to this day had never heard of the law. I believe there has been an absolute lack in effort to notify citizens of the surcharge, including all of the minor and confusing details. Not to mention, we were never allowed to vote on the issue!

In addition to a fine or resolution within the affiliated jurisdiction, the surcharge must be paid every year for three years; the amount varying from hundreds to thousands of dollars and may be paid in increments of approx. $30 a month. If you miss a payment, or it is late, then your driver’s license will be suspended, with or without your notification. After doing some research, it appears that DPS may have failed to notify drivers that their license were/are suspended (some drivers reported not receiving any letter explaining the surcharge and in an article DPS admits to having problems and failing to notify drivers). A result of all of this is that many people are shocked as they’re arrested when pulled over for something as small as a headlight, or even going to renew their driver’s license.

In my particular situation, our fines were paid completely for the first year and we received no notification the second year. The deadline to pay had not expired and when I entered my information on the DPS website, it showed that I had paid my fine and owed nothing. However, when my future father in law, a 20year+ HPD sergeant, ran my license it said that it had been suspended for almost a year. Later I found out that DPS changed your identification number each year, so even if they fail to notify you, and as a good citizen you pro-actively go to the allocated website to pay a fine, the information you are given could be incorrect. Thus leaving you susceptible to being arrested and then paying hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to get out of jail for essentially driving; not because you didn’t pay for whatever violation occurred in the city you received, but because of an additional fine that the state has given you for the same exact violation in said city or jurisdiction. A fine that surprisingly, many drivers have no idea they owe. The financial and economic burden this is placing on hardworking citizens is outrageous.

After moving twice, I changed my address with the United States Postal Service, I was able to receive an updated voter registration card, vote, pay taxes, purchase a vehicle, transfer the title into my name, renew my driver’s license, renew my registration sticker, as well as retain and maintain insurance! The excuse from the surcharge program in not notifying me is that they didn’t have my address (which can also be found in the phone book). Anything they had sent me would have been forwarded to my new address or they would at least receive notification of my new address. Additionally, I found a notification regarding a separate issue from DPS and the city of Webster with my updated address on it. Is our government really this unorganized and incompetent that basic data such as an address is incapable of being shared from department to department? Our nation’s security could very well depend on our government’s ability to function as a unified entity.

My fines are paid off at this time; however my feelings toward the situation have inspired me to educate others of the surcharge program. The additional fees created by the Driver Responsibility Program are unprecedented financial burdens placed on citizens whom can least afford it. One of the most disturbing factors surrounds the distribution of notification letters (a lack of) and the subsequent costly arrest of unknowing, hard working citizens. The surcharge program expires in September of this year (2007), at least it is supposed to. The program was never announced on a public level through the news or mail. Unless you go regularly to the states website, you like so many people, may have never heard of it.

Several other states including Michigan, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey have or are attempting to establish similar surcharge programs. This is not without controversy, as over 150,000 residents have signed petition blocking the legislation. The constitutionality of the law is highly suspect, as it violates the constitution in several areas.

Additionally, my research has revealed that the DRP will not expire as stated previously. The income generating bill is trekking forward albeit a few strategic amendments altering a few of the controversial sections. The amended legislation enabling the DRP takes effect September 1st 2007. What does this mean for (low-income) individuals who currently cannot afford to pay the fees and fines required to reinstate their license? Essentially, the state in realizing the error of their ways, sought to amend their error. In the mean time, where does that leave Texas drivers who were, if not forced, then manipulated into paying hundreds if not thousands of dollars the first time around? Although some may argue that driving is a privilege, many areas, especially in the state of Texas, lack a reasonable mass transit system that connects suburbs to the metropolitan area. One article states that the entire Texas Mobility Fund was created to compensate for the post 9-11 buying habits of Texans. Another detailed study examines how license suspensions unfairly impact the poor and middle class citizens, while the wealthy are vaguely impacted. As for the economic aspect, suspending people’s license, especially for not paying fines that they cannot afford, prevents them from driving to work and making money- money that they would likely spend and contribute to the state’s economy. Filling our jails/prisons with non-violent, misdemeanor offenders will not solve the extreme overcrowding issues our criminal system is currently facing. In the past, government mishaps have led to restitution to those affected by the poor judgment of law makers.

What options to Texans who want to protest the Driver Responsibility Program have? (Besides writing our representatives, as many people are getting no response) File a Class Action law suit? Organize a Protest? Construct a Petition? Find a member to sponsor a bill blocking the legislation?

Bills set to go into effect on September 1, 2007:

SB 1723- Relating to the collection of surcharges assessed under the Driver Responsibility Program.
-80R, Author: Ogden/ Sponsor: Krusee

HB 3545- Relating to the surcharge under the DRP for a conviction of driving while license invalid or without financial responsibility.
-80R

HB 1538- Relating to operating a motor vehicle without establishing financial responsibility: providing a penalty.
-80R

HB 3669- Relating to providing notice of surcharges under the DRP to a defendant in court prior to accepting a plea.
-80R

HB 3888- Seeks to alleviate some of the docket pressure on these statutory county courts and district courts by reducing the penalty for a first time offense of driving with an invalid license to a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by fine only, not to exceed $500; instead of current penalty which includes both a fine and confinement in county jail.
-80R

HB 3640- Relates to the collection of surcharges assessed under the DRP.
-80R

The Constitution of 1876 began with a lengthy bill of rights. It declared that Texas was a free and independent state, subject only to the Constitution of the United States, that all free men have equal rights, and that the writ of habeas corpus could not be suspended or unduly delayed. The article also forbade religious tests for office, unreasonable searches, and imprisonment for debt, and it guaranteed liberty of speech and press, the right of the accused to obtain bail and to be tried by a jury, and the right of citizens to keep and bear arms.


The Texas Constitution
Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 13 - EXCESSIVE BAIL OR FINES; CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT; REMEDY BY DUE COURSE OF LAW
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishment inflicted. All courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done him, in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law.

The Texas Constitution
Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 14 - DOUBLE JEOPARDY
No person, for the same offense, shall be twice put in jeopardy of life or liberty, nor shall a person be again put upon trial for the same offense, after a verdict of not guilty in a court of competent jurisdiction.


The Texas Constitution
Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 3a - EQUALITY UNDER THE LAW
Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed, or national origin. This amendment is self-operative. (Added Nov. 7, 1972.)

The Texas Constitution
Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 18 - IMPRISONMENT FOR DEBT
No person shall ever be imprisoned for debt.

The Texas Constitution
Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 16 - BILLS OF ATTAINDER; EX POST FACTO OR RETROACTIVE LAWS; IMPAIRING OBLIGATION OF CONTRACTS
No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, retroactive law, or any law impairing the obligation of contracts, shall be made.

The Texas Constitution
Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 2 - INHERENT POLITICAL POWER; REPUBLICAN FORM OF GOVERNMENT
All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their benefit. The faith of the people of Texas stands pledged to the preservation of a republican form of government, and, subject to this limitation only, they have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient

Tamara

http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/director_staff/public_information/pr081903c.htm

Who receives money from the surcharges?

Each surcharge collected by the department under this law will be remitted to the Comptroller, on a monthly basis. Trauma centers and county and regional emergency medical services will receive 49.5 percent of the collected money, and the Texas Mobility fund will receive 49.5 percent of the collected money. The money that goes to trauma centers will be handled by the Texas Department of Health, while the **Texas Department of Transportation **will handle money going to the **Mobility fund**, which funds highway projects, including the **Trans-Texas Corridor**. The remaining one percent of the collected money will go to DPS for operation of the Driver Responsibility program.

The Driver Responsibility Program was passed into law as part of House bill 3588, article 10. (The text of the law is located at http://www.capitol.state.tx.us, page 152 of the Adobe text version.)

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