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Driver Responsibility Tax Surprises Out of State Motorist
Driver responsibility taxes turn a single out-of-state speeding ticket into an annual fee.

New York State seal
New laws allow some states to tax drivers annually -- even if they live in another state -- simply because they received a speeding ticket. One Connecticut motorist, who asked that his name not be used, discovered this after driving in October in Niagara Falls, New York. Despite being caught in what he considered a brazen speed trap -- the speed limit was 45 MPH where he was caught, but 55 MPH at the same location in the opposite direction -- he accepted the $155 fine for driving 72 MPH thinking by paying the matter would be settled.

Last week, however, the state of New York notified him that it now considers him an "at risk" driver and therefore he must either pay the state an annual $100 tax or a lump sum of $300.

"Seems to me the low speeding fine was bait for a guilty plea so they could slap this on me a month or two down the road," the motorist explained. "I call that entrapment in the first degree."

Driver responsibility taxes were inspired by the insurance industry practice of turning minor speeding violations into a recurring source of revenue. Though sold as affecting only "bad drivers" like those convicted of driving while drunk or on a suspended license, the extra fees kick in with just a few points on the driving record.

Michigan, New Jersey and Texas also impose this tax, and the idea is spreading. With a 34-6 vote on Friday, the Virginia state Senate approved a "bad driver" tax championed by new governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) that is expected to net $67.2 million in the first year and a total of $401.4 million by 2010. The state House has not yet acted on the measure.

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