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AAA Behind New Virginia Laws Targeting Motorists
AAA had been a driving force behind legislation designed to boost ticketing efforts against Virginia motorists.

Lon Anderson
The American Automobile Association (AAA) last week stood with Virginia state Senator Jay O'Brien Jr (R-Fairfax) in endorsing a number of newly enacted laws designed to increase the number of ways to levy fines on Virginia motorists. Foremost among these was the controversial ticket tax that brought the maximum penalty for speeding to $3550.

"The new tougher traffic penalties -- that impose, in some cases a $1050 civil fee on reckless drivers going 20 mph over the speed limit... which only apply to licensed drivers in Virginia, are designed to save lives and discourage lawlessness and recklessness on highways in the state," said AAA Mid-Atlantic's government affairs chief Lon Anderson.

AAA is among the nation's largest providers of automobile insurers. That means for each citation issued to members in Virginia, AAA is able to raise that driver's annual premium and collect greater revenue. The new laws AAA championed were designed to boost the number of options available to police for citing motorists.

For example, one new law allows police to ticket young motorists who use either a hands-free or regular cell phone behind the wheel. Parents of passengers will also receive a ticket if passengers under the age of eight are not strapped into booster seats. Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, authors of the best-selling book Freakonomics, offer data that shows such laws do nothing for safety.

"Among children two and older, the death rate is no lower for those traveling in any kind of car seat than for those wearing seat belts," Dubner and Levitt wrote in the New York Times.

AAA's crowning achievement this year, however, was laying the groundwork for the return of red light cameras. In 2005, the legislature declined to re-authorize the devices after ten years of use. Furious lobbying on the part of AAA and local government persuaded legislators to reverse course.

"After years of work in support of this life-saving legislation... we look forward to the use of red light cameras at the most dangerous intersections in the Commonwealth," Anderson said.

Instead of saving lives, however, the Virginia Department of Transportation found in 2005 that the state's original camera program caused an increase in the number of injury crashes of up to 24 percent. The total number of crashes also increased by up to 17 percent at the intersections monitored by traffic cameras. (read the study) Although Virginia photo tickets currently do not carry license demerit points, it is important for AAA to promote the use of the devices nationwide. The insurance industry has collected more than a billion in increased revenue from photo tickets issued in California, Arizona, Illinois and overseas where citations carry license points.

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