When Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and House Speaker William J. Howell were mulling over what sort of motorists to target with the state’s new abusive-driver fees, they could have drawn on experience: their own run-ins with the law.
In 1997 and 2001, Kaine (D) was ticketed for going 72 and 73 mph in 55 mph zones, court records show. Another three and two miles per hour would have brought charges of reckless driving for going 20 over the speed limit, an offense that now comes with a mandatory $1,050 fee in addition to judge-imposed penalties.
The speaker’s foot appears to have a bit more lead in it. In 2002, Howell (R-Stafford) was ticketed for reckless driving, charged with going 75 mph on a Caroline County road, although the charge was reduced to simple speeding — 74 in a 55 mph zone — in court, he confirmed.
Kaine and Howell acknowledged speeding but said the offenses do not make them abusive drivers.
Of course not.
Within the past year, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) and House Republican Caucus chairman Terry G. Kilgore (Scott) received speeding tickets in Rockbridge County for driving 80 in a 65 mph zone — one mile per hour short of a reckless-driving charge, had they exceeded 80mph. Their records show each has an additional speeding violation.
A review of the driving histories of the state’s leading lawmakers and those from Northern Virginia shows that they are just as susceptible, if not more so, to the kind of behind-the-wheel behavior that they aimed to curb with the new fees, which have been widely derided since they took effect July 1.
Their driving records were gathered from local courts and personal interviews and may not represent lawmakers’ entire driving records.
But if some of the state’s leading lawmakers — as well as several backbenchers — qualify, just who are the so-called abusive drivers?
“Just because you get one [ticket for going] 20 miles over, you may not be an abusive driver,” Kilgore said. “We probably need to look at that.”
Oh, now you’re going to look at it, how considerate.
At a news conference last week, Howell and other Republican leaders said that state police issued 23 percent fewer reckless driving violations and 11 percent fewer speeding tickets in July than in July 2006 — saying this is evidence that the fees are making motorists slow down. At the same time, Republicans called for changes to the legislation that would exempt some offenses — including certain types of reckless driving — from the hefty fees.
You think maybe the deputies, troopers, and officers may not be writing as many reckless driving tickets because they don’t want to stick the person with a $1,050 “fee”?
Of course, you’ll be changing the law after the election, instead of calling for a special session, how convenient.
Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax) was convicted of reckless driving in 1998 for going 20 mph over the limit. Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) paid a fine for driving 77 in a 55 mph zone in 2000, although he was charged only with speeding. Ebbin was charged with reckless driving in 2003, but that case was dropped by the prosecution, according to court records.
Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax), who proposed the fees in 2005, was caught speeding in 1996, going 70 in a 55 mph zone. Del. Albert C. Eisenberg (D-Arlington) got a ticket for doing 73 in a 55 mph zone in 2000, and Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester) was stopped for going 71 in a 55 mph zone in 1994. In 1990, Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) received a ticket for driving 70 to 74 mph where the speed limit was 55. Del. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) was ticketed for going 50 to 54 in a 35 mph zone in 1992.
Nonetheless, Ault said he thinks the fees are unfair partly because lawmakers might receive special treatment in court, given their stature in the commonwealth.
“Legislators have connections within the court system — they have legal connections, they have name recognition,” Ault said. “Just because these legislators can get their tickets reduced doesn’t mean the average Virginia citizen can.”
You mean, like being the ones that elect the judges for General District court?