Make speeders pay a heftier fine – and help fund public transit

January 4, 2013 

Speeding tickets are incredibly annoying, but speeding drivers who imagine their time supersedes public safety are more annoying. Their fines should be raised.

According to the National Transporta-tion Highway Safety Administra-tion, 32,880 people died in traffic accidents in 2010. Speeding caused 32 percent of those deaths. Speeding is the leading cause of traffic crashes causing nonfatal injuries, says the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Only driving while impaired causes more fatal accidents.

While the numbers of speeding and traffic tickets issued by the Washington State Patrol have been going up, fine amounts are lagging. With various governmental budget shortfalls creating funding dilemmas, it’s time to accelerate speeding fines. Ideally, some of the extra funds will go to Pierce Transit, upon which the indigent, elderly and low-income workers rely so heavily.

A study by the Journal of Law and Economics found “statistical evidence that local governments use traffic citations to make up for revenue shortfalls.” This is like a hidden tax, but that’s better than so-called sin taxes, which are becoming punitive. Of course, heftier fines might actually enhance safety. Indeed, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, there have been no traffic-related fatalities in school zones in Washington state since fines were increased in 2007.

Sometimes I daydream about being a state trooper in an unmarked vehicle in Washington’s Aggressive Driver Apprehension Team. I imagine pulling over a speeder and imperiously marching to the driver’s door, perhaps eliciting a mild panic. Peering through my cool shades and down my snooty nose, I disdainfully command: “Roll down your window completely. Show me your license, registration and insurance, please.”

With all the highfalutin’ deportment I can muster, I query whether the driver is a first responder, an on-call doctor, in labor or simply more important than everyone else. Then I ask: “Do you know why you’ve been pulled over?”

If I get confrontational back chat, I write down exactly what the radar gun shows and deliver the ticket with a pompous reprimand that the driver was endangering other motorists.

If the driver is a bit more contrite, I take a minute to explain how little time is actually saved by speeding. For example, driving at a ludicrous speed of 90 mph for 60 miles will get you a measly 11 minutes ahead of someone driving at 70 mph. It will probably take longer than that paltry difference to unwind the pent-up irritability from excessive rushing.

I know my alter ego’s a bit annoying, but as I hum “Slow down, you move too fast” from Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feelin’ Groovy,” I take solace in the thought that some funds were just added to the pothole-fixing budget, or even Pierce Transit.

Even as sin taxes go up and up on law-abiding citizens, speeding fine increases dawdle. According to the GHSA, only two states have increased fines (outside school zones) for speeding since 2005. Meanwhile, budget shortfalls eviscerate public transportation services.

Correcting the former will help alleviate the latter.

Noel S. Williams, originally from England but an American citizen since 1992, served 12 years in the U.S. Navy and currently is an information-technology specialist and freelance writer in Lakewood.

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