Bryan Caplan  

Best Counter-Example to the Median Voter Model I've Seen In a Long Time

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Most policies are popular. But I'm almost sure that Virginia's draconian new traffic fines are a counter-example. This part clinched it for me:

Although the amount of the tax can add up quickly, the law forbids judges from reducing or suspending it in any way. The tax applies only to Virginia residents, so that out-of-state motorists only need to pay the regular ticket amount.
I'm not sure that Virginians want to discriminate against out-of-state visitors, but I'm pretty sure they don't want to discriminate against themselves!

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
Dan writes:

Unpopular legislation, pushed through by a legislator, David Albo, who runs a law firm that specializes in traffic law and will benefit greatly from the increased fines? This is a textbook case of old-fashioned public choice theory in which special interests capture the regulatory process for their own benefit.

On the other hand, this kind of thing is arguably easier to pull off on a more local stage, since national politicians face more competition and scrutiny. The lack of perfect competition for state legislators invalidates another one of Donald Wittman's premises for efficiency of democratic outcomes.

Scott Clark writes:

This really is a strange situation where the inmate truly runs the asylum. Albo, the traffic lawyer, got elected to state assembly and wrote laws that make it almost inevitable that people will fight their tickets instead of just paying them, and in fighting them, will hire attorneys, and of course you'd hire Albo and Oblon, the specialists, experts in traffic law. Hell, if anyone can get you out of this jam its the guy who wrote the law. He must know where the loopholes are, for he was the one who left them open.

When my friend questioned Albo by email why he would write such an outrageous law, Albo responded that he wanted the money for roads. He didn't even try to appeal to a public safety argument or anything, just that he wanted the money.

Mr. Impressive writes:

The article is deceptive. What do you expect from a journalist?

These civil remedies do not apply to traffic infractions, such as speeding, but only to traffic crimes, such as DUI or reckless driving. These special assessments do not apply to mere speeding tickets at all.

The reason they "discriminate" against Virginia residents is because these taxes are collected over a period of years. So, for example, if you are convicted of reckless driving (which is much worse than mere speeding and is actually a crime, not a mere infraction), it results in $350 paid to the Virginia DMV each year. Obviously, such a tax would basically be logistically impossible to impose on out-of-staters.

The law really is not draconian. There is nothing wrong with assessing a $3000 tax, paid in installments of $1000 over three years for a DUI or a $1050, paid in installments of $350 over three years for reckless driving. Both of these offenses lead to countless deaths on our roads each year. They are both much worse than mere speeding.

Dan writes:

Mr. Impressive,

That is simply not true. The $1,050 fee applies to anyone going more than 20 mph over the speed limit. It would appear you, like the state of Virginia, want to classify that as reckless driving rather than speeding. In that case, who's really being deceptive?

Barkley Rosser writes:


Virginia already classified more than 20 mph over
the limit as "reckless driving." What has changed is the increased penalty and the especially weird part that out-of-staters are exempt. I must agree with Bryan that this looks like a likely violation of median voter theory.

McRib writes:

[Comment deleted for supplying false email address. Email the to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is a requirement to post comments on EconLog.--Econlib Ed.]

Mr. Econotarian writes:

The normal speed up I-h95 in the morning from Massaponax to Dale Blvd. is 75-80 MPH. From there on, it is 5 MPH :)

I do think going faster than 85 MPH in a 65 MPH zone is a little reckless though...

Karl Smith writes:

My guess, from my experience with North Carolina is that they feared it would unconstitutional to apply this fine/tax to non-residents and I am betting that they are correct.

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