There has been tremendous coverage in the last month regarding Virginia's new fines for reckless driving and other lawbreaking on the roads.
(A list of the exact fines can be found in this Washington Post article)
(More: ABC News story, Marc Fisher column, list of many articles)
Recent articles have all covered the outcry and rage--seemingly unanimous, or at least widespread--over the outrageousness of these fines. What is much harder to measure, but I believe exists to a great degree, is the support from hundreds of thousands of safe drivers in Virginia. Let the record state that I support strong fines for reckless driving and other unsafe behavior. I am not the slightest bit outraged, because I have absolutely no concern that I will ever be subject to one of these fines, and if they serve to keep people focused on their driving behavior, then good.
I agree that the legislature should look at making improvements to the law. It ought to include out-of-state drivers, too. It doesn't make much sense that a speeding VA driver is somehow more dangerous than a speeding Maryland driver who happens to be in Virginia. Judges should be given a little leeway to make decisions about those (sarcasm alert!) hundreds of pregnant women rushing to hospitals.
Finland has a progressive system in which fines are pegged to income. There's a certain elegance to this idea, essentially penalizing people with more equal amounts of pain ($300,000/year lawyer fined $3,000; $42,000/year teacher fined $420). Back in 2004, Dr. Gridlock came out opposed to this idea, and despite its appeal to fairness, I think it would be politically impossible in the US.
Is this how we should fund our transportation improvements? Probably not, although having the fines go to providing people with safer alternatives to driving is certainly a good place to put the fine dollars. There's the odd inverse relationship between success (more safe driving) and funding. If hugely successful at deterring bad driving, the amount of money collected would plummet, and we'd have to go back and figure out something else--something more dependable and regular. As I mentioned in my post the other day, a more direct relationship between use of the system and funding would be better, i.e., tolls and congestion charges that charge people for using the roads.