Highway robbery

The Motorist Tax


As state and local governments across the country face ballooning budget deficits, many jurisdictions are turning to motorists as a source of revenue. Georgia recently joined half a dozen other states in imposing a "speeding tax," an additional charge on top of existing fines for driving too fast.

California has added a $26 "penalty assessment" for every $10 of some traffic fines. The assessment can turn an already steep $70 fine for not wearing a seat belt into a nearly $200 citation. A red light infraction can run as high as $500.

In Virginia in March, state police carried out Operation Air, Land & Speed, a mass ticket-writing campaign explicitly aimed at bridging the state's $2.2 billion budget shortfall as well as helping the state apply for federal highway safety grants. The campaign issued nearly 7,000 tickets in three days.

In the Old Dominion, going as little as 10 mph over the speed limit can trigger a "reckless driving" charge and a $2,500 fine. And USA Today reported in April that city and state budget woes are pressuring police departments to eliminate the "speed cushion," the five-to-10-mph speed limit buffer cops customarily give motorists as a margin for error.

Indianapolis, meanwhile, is trying to protect revenue from traffic fines by discouraging motorists from fighting unfair tickets. The city has taken to slapping administrative penalties of $500 to $2,500 on motorists who unsuccessfully challenge traffic citations in court.