How much were you fined the last time you were stopped for speeding? Depending on where you live, the penalty could range from under a hundred bucks to a couple of thousand dollars or more, even for a first offender. All across America, local legislators seemingly have one eye on road safety and the other on cash-strapped coffers. But is it as simple as that? We take a look. And if you haven't been stopped yet, well, lucky you.
States with highest speeding-ticket fines
Drivers caught speeding in the states of Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire all are liable to be fined up to $1000, at a judge's discretion, for a first-time speeding offense, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The severity of the financial penalty also may depend upon the number of miles above the speed limit when clocked and the number of points on a driver's license, or if the offense occurred near a school or road works. A driver's license may also be suspended, their car impounded, or they may face jail time.
Some states including Michigan, Texas and New Jersey, operate under so-called "driver responsibility" laws, which, in some cases, can result in a further fine of up to $1000 leveled a year after the conviction. Virginia, which until 2008 had some of the strictest penalties for speeders, repealed its driver-responsibility laws last year after a public outcry. Georgia, meanwhile, has just voted to add $200 to the fine of what it terms "superspeeders," who travel more than 10 mph over the speed limit. Other states with fines of up to $500 -- which in many cases is then compounded with additional court fees -- include Maryland, Missouri and Oregon.
Fighting speeding-ticket legislation in Michigan
Under the driver-responsibility fee system, speeders in Michigan face a double charge for their offense, the first issued by a municipality and the second by the state; taking into account various additional fees, both can top $1000. Similar penalty systems are in place for reckless driving and DUIs. The state also annually charges drivers who maintain seven or more points on their license. The 2004 law has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars for state and local coffers, and faces criticism that it entraps low-income drivers in a circle of debt once they've been convicted of speeding. Some also question collection procedures.
State Sen. John Gleason, who is leading the fight in the state legislature to repeal the laws, tells AOL Autos: "We've heard from so many people its horrendous effect on families. They lose their jobs and it impacts their family. Poor people can't get out from under the obligation, $1000 is a tremendous amount of money.
"People make mistakes. Every single one of us has been on a highway, and several have made decisions we wish we could redo. We should not be penalized on our ability to pay."
Calling the issue a "bipartisan one," he says recent efforts to repeal the act have stumbled in the legislature, but he's still hopeful passing a bill that "doesn't include such an awful amount of money." He suggests taking a look at other penalty systems that could be based on drug courts or alcohol-treatment centers.
Additional penalties in Georgia
Watch your speed while in these fast cars.
Georgia in May this year passed the so-called "superspeeders" act, which adds $200 to the fine of a driver, caught driving more than 75 mph on two-lane roads and 85 mph or more on freeways. In some counties, speeders are already leveled municipal fines that can add more than $1000 to any ticket. The enhanced state fines are justified, says Bob Dallas of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety in Georgia, as a deterrent against speeding. He also points out that funds from the statewide speeding program, which begins Jan. 1, 2010, will be put toward trauma care centers across the state. Currently he is organizing a public-awareness campaign around the fines using TV, web and radio ads, electronic roadway signs, and fliers at truck stops and filling stations.
"Every driver who is going to excessively speed on our freeways will be fined $200 extra. If you don't pay, your license will be suspended. We want to make sure the public listens to the message.
"To the average person out there we are one of the regions where people look to make up time [on long road-trips]. It's not a reputation we enjoy, because of the consequences. But there are folks out there who believe that other people are just driving too slowly.
"The goal here is to improve safety. And in addition to saving lives, the proceeds are going to expand trauma care. But if not a single ticket is written, because they can't find anyone speeding, that is the best scenario. We're trying to change the culture of speeding."
Controversy in Virginia
Virginia gained a reputation several years ago for having the most severe speeding laws in the U.S., when it began charging most speeders an additional $1,050 fine on top of its usual $300 fine. Limits for reckless driving were also lowered, with drivers caught at 10 mph above the legal limit liable to be cited for reckless driving, a possibly felony offense where the penalties are more severe. State lawmakers in Virginia expected to raise $60 to $120 million a year through the system, in a bill championed by state legislator Dave Albo. After a strong public reaction, the act was repealed last year.
Albo, a partner in a law firm specializing in traffic offenses, blames misinformation for the law's overturning. He tells AOL: "The problem was the internet got a hold of it, saying that if a driver didn't use the turn signal they'd have to pay $3,000. Most of the stuff posted wasn't accurate. And thousands were writing to their delegates saying, 'I can't believe this.'
"But the bill didn't apply to traffic misdemeanors, it was only if you killed somebody, or a DUI or reckless driving. There was so much misinformation out there. Drunk drivers kill one person a day in Virginia, and speeding is the second cause of injury and death.
"Alongside legislation we need more police; my constituents are always telling me we need more police on the roads."
Richard Diamond, the editor of www.thenewspaper.com, which campaigns on driving issues, says: "Virginia's reckless driving statute says 80 mph is automatic reckless. If you get written up at that speed, you face a charge that is just one step away from a felony. But the state also raised the speed limit on I-85 near the North Carolina border to 70 mph without altering the reckless statute to match. This creates an easy-to-write and very expensive ticket. It's a favorite because the plea bargains make it so the charge is never really challenged in court.
"This was at the heart of the abuser fee debate in Virginia. People were being hit with the $1,050 "reckless" abuser fee for what most people would consider an ordinary infraction. The problem with the reckless statute is [it's] still there."