Comprehensive and Informative Commentary on State and Federal Legal Matters
As was reported this week by Virginia Lawyers Weekly, widespread complaints about “speed traps” have sparked a heated debate between legislators over the division of funds generated by traffic fines in the Commonwealth. Under the current system, local governments have the ability to pass their own traffic laws, as well as to set fines and punishments for the violation of these laws. Though these local laws often parallel or mirror Virginia state statutes, the key difference between the two is one of financial allocation. In cases where the driver is charged with a violation of the state statute, the monies generated in court are allocated to the state. These funds assist with teacher’s retirement funds and school construction, among other things. Considering that thousands of tickets are handed out in Virginia each weekend, the total revenue generated can easily creep into the tens of millions of dollars.
Conversely, if the offending driver is charged under the local version of the law–an option that is up to the discretion of the officer–the funds generated are given to the local government to dispose of as it pleases. Local government officials contend that the funds are still primarily put towards improving education and to funding other local necessities, which helps to keep local real estate and property taxes from rising. However, many argue that allowing officers to charge drivers under the local ordinance ultimately disadvantages citizens because the practice creates an incentive for police departments to set up “speed traps” as a means generating revenue for the locality.
From a legal standpoint though, this debate raises some very interesting questions. Primary among them is the issue of what is best for the client: being charged under the state statute or the local ordinance? On the one hand, advocating for the removal of the local ordinance option (and using state statutes only) would seem beneficial to all in that it would remove the incentive for localities to over-use “speed traps.” Such a move would have the potential to drastically reduce the number of tickets issued in the Commonwealth and to save drivers millions in court costs and fines each year.
On the other hand, a closer, more pragmatic look at the systems reveals that the local ordinance option actually has some significant benefits to Virginia drivers. Chief among these advantages is that while local versions of state statutes can assess fines for traffic violations, the D.M.V. does not assign points to a driver’s record for the violation of local ordinances. To a number of Virginia drivers, this is a much appreciated alternative, since they can simply pay the fine and put the incident behind them without having to worry about accruing points.
While I can see the merit of both sides of this argument, I am very curious to see how the rest of Virginia feels on this issue. Would you prefer to oppose the ordinance option in hopes of reducing “speed traps”, or would you prefer to still have the option of avoiding points if you are charged? The attorneys at Westlake Legal would love to know!