Virginia Raked In $101 Million in Speeding Tickets Last Year

photoVirginia has about 75,000 miles of roadway, 279 law enforcement agencies, and no speed cameras, by state law. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth collected more than $101 million in revenue from speeding infractions written by radar-gun-wielding police officers during 2010, according to an analysis by AAA Mid-Atlantic.

An 8/10 mile stretch of Interstate 295 near Hopewell, Virginia is dubbed the “Million Dollar Mile” because of the town’s penchant for issuing millions of dollars in speeding tickets a year, mostly to out-of- state motorists.

It’s garnered Hopewell its reputation as a “speed trap” in the eyes of many motorists, the auto club notes.  The dispute over the city’s speed ticket revenue elicited an official ruling from the state’s Attorney General and triggered a court clash between the city prosecutor and the Commonwealth’s Attorney.

Other cities across the state are also cashing in on speeding and other traffic citations, notes the auto club. All told, Virginia raked in $238 million in traffic fines during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010. Those citations were issued by both the Virginia State Police and local police departments.

Very tempting

“It appears some communities are falling into the trap of using ‘traffic enforcement as a mechanism to raise revenue.’ It’s the very temptation that all law enforcement departments are warned to avoid,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “This enforcement for money, not for safety, undermines the credibility of law enforcement, infuriates motorists, and incenses politicians, and yes, even conscientious police officials. Was all of the ticketing done for safety purposes? Was the ticketing being done fairly across the entire driving population? News reports are shedding some doubt on the legitimacy of at least some of this effort.”

It’s ticket quotient.  That’s the surprising finding in the Local Ordinances and Funding of Courts report. Prepared by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts, it provides a rare glimpse into the monies generated by traffic citations.

The lion’s share, or two-thirds, of speeding ticket revenue, tallying $64.8 million, was collected by 521 local governments – cities, county seats, counties, and incorporated towns – across the state during FY 2010, the report reveals. In contrast, one third of the infractions were written by Virginia State Troopers, with the Commonwealth netting $36.6 million from speeding ticket fines.

All-in-all, Virginia’s 500-plus localities and the Commonwealth reaped a windfall of $238, 314, 876 from traffic tickets of all sorts during FY 10, the breakdown of “‘Motor Vehicles’ infraction revenue shows. That’s the revenue from two million traffic tickets that year, editorialized The Washington Times.

Local police officers issued 60 percent of the moving violation tickets that year, carrying fines valued at $142, 712,713, District Court records shows.  The offenses ranged from driving on a suspended license to failing to wear safety belts. During the same budgetary cycle, the Virginia State Police wrote 40 percent of the tickets, with the Commonwealth amassing $95,602,162 in traffic fines stemming from a veritable collectivity of traffic infractions, including child restraint violations, the AAA Mid-Atlantic analysis reveals.

Speeding tickets

Speeding tickets comprised 42.4 percent of all moving violations incurred on Virginia’s roads in FY10, the auto club observes. Reckless driving emerged as the second most common traffic offense that year. Virginia’s court system collected a total of $29,539,599 in fines stemming from reckless driving tickets, notes the auto club. That sum includes $18,437,544 collected from “Commonwealth Cases,” so-called, plus $11,102,055 in local cases, the Auditor’s report shows.

In Virginia, the District Court System handles the majority of “Motor Vehicles” infractions, explains Walter J. Kucharski, the Auditor of Public Accounts, who released his report September 28, 2011. Yet another report, this one from the Virginia State Police, shows State Troopers cited 197,616 motorists for speeding across the state in 2010. That’s in comparison to 72,532 drivers cited for reckless driving and 26,098 drivers nabbed for seat belt violations. State Troopers also apprehended 5,649 drunken drivers and stopped and ticketed 6,955 drivers for child restraint violations.

That same year, the Fairfax County Police Department issued more than 26,000 traffic tickets, and just across the Potomac River, the District of Columbia collected nearly two-fifths of Virginia’s statewide revenue total from speeding citations, which was $101,488,392.  In contrast, the District netted $43.1 million in speed camera revenue resulting from 553, 753 speeding tickets.

Still, the ticket-writing finesse of Sheriff’s deputies in Hopewell, located 24 miles southeast of Richmond, and situated along a two-mile stretch of I-295, continues to raise eyebrows and concerns.

All told, 22,655 citizens live in the city of Hopewell, compared to the 1.1 million residents of Fairfax County, the U.S. Census Bureau confirms. Yet, Hopewell generated nearly half the traffic ticket count of the state’s most populous county. Outraged motorists are trending on an internet forum and buzzing about the city’s knack for issuing 1000 speeding tickets per month on average, netting over $150,000 per month for its depleted coffers.

Hopewell issued 10,122 traffic tickets in 2010, carrying $1.1 million in assessed fines, with 7,350 tickets (73.6 percent) going to out-of- state drivers. Deputies issued 14,778 traffic tickets in 2011, with 11,046 tickets (74.7 percent) going to residents of other states. The town netted $2,056,387 in fines, according to reports in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Progress-Index (Petersburg). Last Friday, a local judge upheld Hopewell’s controversial traffic ticketing system.

The controversy prompted Virginia State Senator John Watkins (R-Midlothian) to introduce legislation during the 2012 Virginia General Assembly Session to just to stop such practices along an interstate highway.  Ultimately, that legislation (Senate Bill 500) died in committee.

 

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Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.

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