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12/30/2007
Virginia Traffic Fatalities Hit 17-Year High
One thousand motorists died on Virginia roads despite crack downs on motorists and massive speeding ticket fines.

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The hefty fees of up to $3000 imposed on Virginia motorists since July for various traffic offenses have failed to reduce the number of road fatalities (fee info). This year's fatality figure crossed the 1000 mark on Saturday after three died in an accident in Lynchburg. Virginia has not seen this many deaths on its roads since 1071 died in 1990. State legislators had promised earlier this year that the abuser fees would make the state a safer place to drive.

"We must not abandon this critical safety measure, but join the ranks of other states that are successfully taking action and avoiding this tragic trend," then-state Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico) said in August in defense of the abuser fees.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) upped the rhetoric by claiming the safety benefit was already felt by August.

"Preliminary Virginia State Police enforcement data obtained through the Office of the Virginia Secretary of Public Safety indicates that Virginia's new abusive driver fees already may be having a positive impact on driver behavior in the Commonwealth," Howell's office claimed in a statement.

The positive impact turned out to be an illusion, a report by the Joint Commission on Transportation Accountability concluded. Although Virginia's roads became less safe, the neighboring state of Maryland, which does not impose a speeding ticket tax or civil remedial fees, has seen a drop in fatalities over last year.

Governor Tim Kaine responded to the dire news by ordering the Virginia State Police to stop motorists at more than fifty-five scheduled roadblocks between December 23 and New Year's. The ticketing effort, dubbed "Operation Lifesaver," was orchestrated with the help of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA-Mid Atlantic. A similar ticket blitz announced at the end of November generated at least $7 million in revenue -- primarily from speeding tickets -- but failed to cut the number of fatalities.

Despite the emphasis on speeding tickets, last year, only 5 percent of accidents involved the driver exceeding the speed limit according to Department of Motor Vehicle figures (see page 3, 420k PDF file).



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