Virginia Trafficking in Absurdity

Bear with me for a little exercise.

  • - Expired registration. Hell, *no* registration.
  • - Impeding the flow of traffic.
  • - Fail to obey traffic lights. Fail to obey a stop sign.
  • - Evasion of a “traffic control” device (road cones, barriers, etc).
  • - Fail to give full time & attention (texting, anyone?)
  • - Fail to drive on right side of highway. (?!)
  • - Speeding 20 MPH above the limit…in a school zone.

If you answered, “easy! They’re moving violations” you would be correct, but uninteresting.

If you answered, “well, thanks to the nanny state anti-sprawl dirty hippie activists in the Commonwealth of Virginia, those are all moving violations with smaller (in some cases considerably so) fines than the first violation of the HOV rules because traffic is clearly an end-times apocalyptic crisis and the social engineering of how many passengers you have in your car is sacrosanct”, you would be absolutely on the mark.



Flack. Former (having gone to rehab) blogger.

28 thoughts on “Virginia Trafficking in Absurdity

  1. This sounds like you got a HOV violation ticket, Mike. And if so, too bad so sad. You knew better and risked it. Those law-abiding nanny state anti-sprawl dirty hippie activists in the cars that sped by were cheering the trooper. So am I.

  2. Don’t be a douchebag, Wayan. Yes, I got tagged by an officer. Yes, he was doing his job. Yes, I deserved the ticket.

    But try on the reading hat again – the notion that the fines are proportional to the relative gravity of the offense is absurd. I tend to think that speeding 20 mph over the limit in a school zone is an offense much greater.…DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY.

    But yes, I’m sure that guy in a 12mpg hummer going by with an extra person in the car was doing so much more for the environment than the 45 mpg Prius pulled over behind me because that person was alone.

  3. It’s like Baretta used to say – Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time (or pay the fine). Or get the ticket, realize you had it coming and quit bellyaching about it.

  4. Sure, Carl. And when jaywalking comes with a stiffer fine than punching someone in the face, it will of course be met with the same level of “right on!” I imagine.

  5. You guys, Krempasky is not saying he shouldn’t have gotten the ticket. In fact, I quote: “Yes, I got tagged by an officer. Yes, he was doing his job. Yes, I deserved the ticket.”

    What he IS saying is that the fine for HOV violation is disproportionate to the seriousness of the offense. The fine for driving down the wrong side of the highway, into oncoming traffic, endangering countless other people, is $30, which is less than a quarter of what the fine for driving without a second person in your car is. Read the entry before bashing, for $DEITY’s sake.

  6. I read the post, and while the plethora of epitaphs he pepper it with don’t apply to me, I think when you come out swinging wildly at so many folks you had better be prepared for people to swing back.

    On the topic itself, there’s the short answer and the long answer. The short answer is this: Krempasky is simply wrong about the fines for those offenses being smaller because in almost every case – in particular going 20 miles per hour above the speed limit, school zone or not – reckless driving will be added on, a violation with a $2000 fine and the potential for actual jail time and suspension of license.

    The longer response is that it’s worth remembering that the punishment is not merely meant to be proportionate to the offense but also represents the likelihood of getting caught at the offense, as well as discouraging behavior.

    HOV violators will likely get away with it more often than not, so if the restrictions are meant to impact behavior they need to carry a sufficient fine to make it not worth people’s while to take the chance on violating the law. The book Freakonomics examined the phenomenon where fines for offenses were set too low (picking up kids late from day care in that example) and noted that the result of those small fines is that people became MORE likely to offend because they viewed it as a commercial exchange.

    We’ll be making it an overt commercial exchange soon enough, with pay-to-play travel lanes.

  7. I can tell you from experience that 20mph over the speed limit is a fairly hefty fine. I can also tell you that your rhetorical skills and local knowledge need some fine tuning.

  8. Well yeah, but when you add in the $62 processing fee, plus the additional tickets you’ll get cited for as well (because they will add on what they can if it applies), it ends up being pretty hefty anyway. Blowing through a school crossing in Fairfax County (not zone, crossing) at 5 mph over the limit nets you $30 for the violation, $62 to process, plus possibly a “failure to pay full time and attention” which is $30 plus $11 processing, and maybe a “failure to obey highway sign” at $30 plus $11. (And heaven help you if you fail to have on a seatbelt or they toss on a “reckless driving” citation.) Total fine? $174. And of course, that’s just one example.

    I mean, I get what you’re saying, Krempasky. But as Don points out, as much as it logically doesn’t make sense on a straight fine=violation scale, it makes sense on a psychologically economic scale. I’m rather glad the fine is a deterrent for HOV abuse; it keeps the numbers of police patrolling the HOV down and out on the streets where they’re more needed.

  9. Yep. Which makes an HOV (1st time offense) clock in at $125+$62 = $187.

    Yes, yes, it’s still higher than my example above. I know that (and knew it when I posted it). But that’s not my point. If you’re driving like a maniac on a residential street with apparent disregard for safety, the police will add on more citations and possibly the Reckless Endangerment one – which requires a court appearance and could lead to hefty fines / jail time.

    Fair? In a black-and-white world, no. But the law has shades of gray and that’s just how it is around here.

  10. As would fines for “failure to obey highway sign” and things like that. So the point remains that the *base* fine for the violation is much higher, because all these little hidden fees and crap would apply across the board.

  11. I don’t know where you’re pulling that $6 per mpg number since the law as it is in the books simply states that the fine shall not exceed $250. Perhaps that’s how the municipality where you were pulled over computes it, I dunno.

    Even if we stipulate it as accurate, speeding in a school zone is $6 per mile per hour over the limit until you are going 20mph or more over the speed limit, at which point you are engaging in reckless driving and the fine is $2,000.

    The VA laws covering reckless driving are extensive, ranging from 42.2-852 through 42.2-868, and very flexible in how they can be applied. It’s a class one misdemeanor, elevating it from a traffic violation to a criminal charge. Depending on the nature of the offense this is tacked on to it stays on your record 5 to 11 years and carries 6 points.

    If you wish to address financial penalties, those points are going to raise your insurance rates – an indirect cost that HOV violations do not incur. That’s also no doubt part of the calculation in determining HOV violations.

    If you want to address more indirect penalties, racking up 18 points in a short period of time gets you a 90 day suspension and the requirement that you take a course before reinstatement. You can challenge that reckless driving and perhaps get it knocked down to improper driving ($500) but you’ll have to procure a lawyer, which most people don’t have free access to.

    The reality is that most of the listed items above would have reckless driving stacked on top of them and are not, in fact, cheaper than an $125 HOV violation.

  12. I suspect the HOV offense does not add to your insurance costs either, which those others would do…
    However, that has little to do with the complaint you have which is that you got a fine for a HOV violation. If you are a tourist then I would say you have a fair point. If you are local though, you should know about it and understand the reason for it, regardless of the punishment for other offenses.

  13. I think the intent behind having very high fees for this “minor” violation is to be a deterrent. The problem is that many drivers think that they can break the rules and slip through – but hopefully a perhaps dumbfoundingly-high fee will give them a second thought.

    Also, if you really want to drive solo in the Virginia HOV lanes, you can always opt for a “clean special fuel” status car. Going in these faster lanes is intended as a reward for good, conservative highway behavior – not a right for anyone who wants to get places faster.

  14. But let’s get back to the real argument here – jaywalking vs. punching someone in the face.

    Seriously, I know it’s a pain, Krempasky, and I was harsh in my first comment. My apologies to you. On the other hand, if you do this type of thing all the time and finally got caught, just amortize the fine over the several times you did not get caught and chalk it up to highway use tax or a toll.

    If this was your first time and got caught, tell all your friends that the VAHP or whoever gave you the ticket are completely badass and don’t give any leniency. It will be a good warning for them and will help those who are trying to use the HOV lane for its intended purpose.

    My best advice is to ask Tom and Don if there’s any money in the authors budget to cover this, as it obviously got a whole lot of comments and views.

  15. Sigh. to be more clear: Fine, if HOV is a policy choice we make, then no problem. In fact, this is probably the first time I’ve ever actually violated the statute (I never otherwise take 66 that time of day – this isn’t about blowing through a gate or missing a flashing sign, it’s quite easy to cross the TR bridge and…well, not exit on 50). No worries.

    And the only actual good point made from a factual standpoint was Don’s (and half a point for the Freakonomics reference, although I disagree there) – actually I was incorrect. If you only go 19mph over the speed limit in a school zone, it’s less than the HOV fine. 20 over would, as you mention, *automatically* tack on the reckless.

    But in all other cases, the justification seems to be, “well, in these other situations, you’d earn lots of other violations.” Well, maybe so as a practical matter – but THAT’S NOT THE POINT.

    The point is that when we craft laws we make choices and value statements about relative import (or, otherwise considered, the relative danger or damage caused) of the offense. Murder is a stiffer fine than attempted murder. Rape is worse than assault, and grand theft is more serious than petty theft. And the sentences (or at least the guidelines in a generally rational justice system) pretty much track as such.

    And when you look at the Commonwealth’s CHOICES and value statements in their fines, the disconnect – or, if you will the anomaly – is readily apparent. For single violations, it’s tough to see a fine HIGHER than a FIRST HOV offense. (exceptions include DUI and one other that I don’t have in front of me) Never mind the second, third, or fourth – they go up geometrically, something that no other standard violation does.

    So, you read that and have to say – wow, there must be something more than typical crime/deterrent/punishment mathematics going on – a judgement that the legislature has made as to the relative import or danger that this type of issue brings.

    I just happen to think that choice is a pretty freaking absurd one.

  16. I’ve got a better one for you. the state of VA wants to tax me on my new truck (after i paid taxes in MD) simply because i rent in arlington.

    i hate va.

  17. And this would be my opportunity to say you should do one of two things (both which make me so popular in NoVA):

    1. Don’t drive
    2. Don’t cross the river

    Then you don’t have to worry about all them “fines”.

  18. Don’t worry, Wayan – neither of those two things could possibly make you less popular in NoVA.

  19. Krempansky, if you were in charge what would be your solution here? Raise all the other fine levels so they are higher than the HOV fine? That is a reasonable idea but would probably get you voted out pretty quick. Reduce the HOV lane fine? I am sure this is what you would like to happen but then it becomes less of a deterent and would reduce the point of having a HOV lane at all. In truth HOV seems to be a limited solution to the huge issue of traffic in NOVA. but if the VA gov is going to try it it has to put in restrictions to help it work. The fine in place is to change habits not to reflect any level of danger of the offense. Ideally eventually there would be tolls that charge per number of people in the car. This would change habits pretty quickly, until then I am not sure what the alternative is.

  20. Pete, is it that difficult to spell my name correctly? Just curious.

    “The fine in place is to change habits not to reflect any level of danger of the offense.”

    Exactly. Hence, the reference to social engineering. I tend to think that (and especially in this case) is a relatively problematic use of government. But it’s made absurd when you compare it to things that present real danger.

  21. Krempasky, My apologies for getting your name wrong. You have not answered my question though, what would your solution be?

    Also, if government is not there for social engineering, what is it there for? All laws are there to socially engineer us in one way or another.

  22. I’m actually a fan of HOT lanes instead of HOV lanes, largely because they present citizens with choices: pay a toll or carpool.

    What is it there for? How about to protect people’s rights? Property? Liberty? To be sure if “stopping people from shooting each other” is social engineering, then sure – the government does a bit of that. But if you can’t draw the distinction between “stopping people from shooting each other” and “drive this special clean fuel (or at least, has a pretty hybrid badge on it) or pay a fine” – then you’re denser than I thought.

  23. Not only is that unnecessarily insulting, Krempasky, but “drive this special clean fuel or pay a fine” is reductio ad absurdum. You were and are perfectly free to drive with whatever fuel you like, just not by yourself and in that lane.

    As far as the fact that the other violations would tack on more fines to make the total bill higher, I think that certainly IS the point. You contend, reasonably, that the punishment should at least vaguely fit the crime. I say that overall it does if you consider the total punishment.

    Disregarding the cumulative cost isn’t reasonable. I’d wager that you and I are on the same side of most double taxation issues, so I know you don’t think that just because someone gets nibbled to death that it’s any difference than one big bite.

    And to be honest, I’m still skeptical about this $6 per mile school zone contention. I’ve now googled about twice and haven’t found a firm number. The closest I’ve found is the laws governing Arlington[pdf] – and I don’t know that qualifies since you might have been in Fairfax at the outer edge of 66 – which don’t spell out the fines for speeding within any given zone. They do, however, allow for suspending your license for 60 days if you go over that 45mph speed limit by more than -5- miles per hour twice in a 12 months period.

    I still am having a hard time seeing that a one-time financial cost exceeds the total impact of being pinched for those other violations.