The Virginia Verdict Review

Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters

To Protect and Serve [the interests of the state budget]

The Commonwealth’s latest installment of its traffic enforcement crack-down, Operation Air, Land & Speed, cited over 4,500 Virginia drivers this past weekend.  As was reported by Richmond media channel WHSV-TV, this particular rendition of the Commonwealth’s new favorite traffic control program, which seems to be implemented sporadically every few months, involved a coordinated police effort to patrol all 300 miles of I-64, all 177 miles of I-95, and all 325 miles of I-81.  By weekends end, a total of 3,590 speeding tickets, 897 reckless driving tickets, 18 drunk driving arrests, and 17 drug and felony arrests were handed out to traveling motorists by everybody’s favorite boys in blue.

When asked to expound upon the purpose of Operation Air, Land & Speed, Virginia State Police Superintendent, Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, stated that the purpose of this operation was “to encourage drivers to make safety a priority when driving on Virginia’s interstates.”  Flaherty also expressed his surprise that so many were “willing to break the law, despite a heightened presence of troopers on patrol”–an indication the Superintendent Flaherty believes the citizens of the Commonwealth were adequately notified that there would be an additional police presence this weekend and chose to break the law anyway.

While the VSP’s motivations may, in fact, be at least partially true, one should be sure to take them in with a generous helping of salt.  After all, when one considers that traffic fines are one of the Commonwealth’s most productive forms of raising revenue without raising taxes and then considers this in light of the current financial crisis, it seems hard to ignore the possibility that this weekend’s “operation” might also have been financially motivated.  To put this into perspective, consider that, in accordance with Virginia Code 46.2-878.3, the standard rubric for assessing fines on speeding tickets mandates a $6 fine for each mile per hour the driver was exceeding the posted speed limit.  Assuming that 1) the average speed limit on the three highways in question is 60 mph, 2) that the average driver is not ticketed for speeding unless they are going at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, and 3) that all of the tickets handed out are paid in full (which I seriously hope they are not), then that means that the average speeding ticket carried with it a $60 fine (before court costs), allowing the Commonwealth to gross $215,400 in speeding tickets alone, in one weekend.  This calculation is even more staggering when extrapolated out to cover all 178,766 traffic summonses and arrests that have come of Operation Air, Land & Speed since its inception in 2006.  When these cases are taken into account, the “operation” has brought in roughly $10,725,960 in the last 5 years.  When one adds in the $72 court cost associated with each ticket, these figures jump to $473,880 on the weekend and an astonishing $25,591,112 in the last 5 years.

If you happen to be one of 4,500 unfortunate drivers affected by this weekend’s sting, feel free to contact my office at (703) 406-7611 or visit our website.  We would love to help address this issue with you.

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