By NMA President, James Baxter
For over thirty years I have heard every excuse and permutation conceivable to justify more and larger fines for traffic law violations. The one thing they all have in common is that there is no evidence that they reduce accidents.
The founders of our country were clearly aware of the corrupting and corrosive potential that derives from allowing the “enforcers” to profit from enforcement.
They knew better than to allow enforcement agencies, or the governments that employ them, to profit from law enforcement activities. That’s why many state constitutions mandate that fines and financial penalties be diverted to non-enforcement purposes such as education or libraries.
Unfortunately, less gifted legislative bodies, in the intervening years, have created legal fabrications that allow the circumvention of these needed restraints.
I propose we strike this beast at its heart; we eliminate financial penalties for traffic law violations.
No money means no enforcement for profit. The remaining enforcement activity would be concentrated on truly dangerous drivers. Wouldn’t that be novel!
There is no serious evidence that traffic fines really have a positive effect on highway safety. That’s not the same as saying traffic law enforcement doesn’t, or can’t, have a positive effect on highway safety.
I’m saying traffic fines are ineffectual. After almost thirty years of listening to ticket recipients I can attest to the constancy of one refrain:
“I don’t mind paying the fine, but I don’t want the points on my driving record.”
Many times followed by:
“I don’t want my insurance rates jacked up for the next three years.”
Clearly, it’s the points and the implied potential for loss of license and increased insurance rates that are the real deterrents.
The government types aren’t so slow as to miss this point, nor to fail to capitalize on the leverage it offers.
Any prosecutor with more than a week’s experience knows that an offer of “no points” converts a determined “not guilty” to a compliant “no contest.”
I propose that the current corrupt fine system be replaced by a non-negotiable point system.
- The points would be assessed much like they are today, based on the seriousness of the violation.
- The violations could be contested in court, just like they are today.
- If the number of points exceeds a set number over a set time span the operator’s license would be suspended for a specified period of time.
- Escalating non-financial penalties, including jail time, could be applied to those driving on a suspended license.
I can already hear the road warriors out there bemoaning the loss of the “easy out,” just pay the fine, forget the points, and be on your way. However, that’s the system that has gotten us where we are today; wholesale government extortion of motorists.
This change will not take place in a vacuum, and the ramifications will reach far beyond the obvious:
- Small villages with populations of 200 people will not be fielding 20 man police department to patrol the half-mile of Interstate that passes through the village boundaries.
- County Sheriffs’ departments and city police departments will redirect the man hours spent operating speed traps to dealing with real crimes and providing emergency services.
- High profile enforcement binges will become rare events.
- There will be far fewer people driving on suspended licenses which will result in more insured drivers (no license, no insurance coverage).
- Significantly reduced case loads in traffic courts, perhaps resulting in the return of due process for persons charged with a traffic violation.
- And, the allure of ticket cameras will also fade into oblivion.
Why all these positive changes?
Taking the money out of the system will vastly reduce the number of tickets issued and change the priorities for law enforcement agencies. There will be no financial incentive to ensnare normal citizens with arbitrary traffic law enforcement.
Replacing traffic fines with a non-monetary penalty system could dramatically improve the driving experience in the US. No more revenue and profit-driven enforcement. And, yet there would be meaningful deterrents to dangerous and unsafe drivers that would equally affect the poor, the wealthy, and everybody in between.
Let me know what you think about this “revolution!”