No excuses

The pace is picking up in terms of enforcement efforts aimed at making our roadways safer, so make sure your drivers stick to speed limits and buckle their seat belts stiffer penalties are here. I'll highlight efforts by my home state, Virginia, as an example of how things are radically changing. New civil penalties for traffic violations went into effect on July 1, and they're causing a lot of sticker

The pace is picking up in terms of enforcement efforts aimed at making our roadways safer, so make sure your drivers stick to speed limits and buckle their seat belts — stiffer penalties are here.

I'll highlight efforts by my home state, Virginia, as an example of how things are radically changing. New civil penalties for traffic violations went into effect on July 1, and they're causing a lot of sticker shock here in the Commonwealth. The steeper fines, which apply only to residents of the state, highlight a new approach to bolstering highway safety while also generating road maintenance funds.

Ranging from $750 to $3,000, the civil penalties are tacked onto existing fines and court costs. According to USA Today, if you exceed the speed limit by 20 mph in Virginia, a penalty of $1,050 is added to the existing fine ($200 on average), plus $61 in court costs. A first-time drunken driver faces a $2,250 civil penalty, plus fines and court costs that typically run about $500 or more. Driving without a license? That's a $900 civil penalty, in addition to the ordinary $100 for a fine and court costs.

Here's another whammy: If you don't pay the fine within 26 months (three installments allowed), you'll lose your license. Talk about using a very big stick!

I am totally in favor of this because it's probably the only way to decrease the carnage occurring on our highways.

Take a look at the preliminary DOT numbers for 2006. While the number of road deaths is projected to have declined slightly from 43,443 in 2005 to 43,300 in 2006, “even one death is too many,” according to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

She added that DOT's preliminary figures show that over half of passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were unbuckled. “Bad things happen when people don't buckle up, and no one is immune from the damage and devastation that comes from not wearing a seat belt,” she said.

Peters also noted New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's comment about the fact that he was not wearing a seat belt when he barely survived a 90-plus mph crash earlier this year: “No excuses.”

It's high time everyone on the highway adopted that mantra. It's not just the human toll that's unbearable, but the economic cost as well. DOT puts the cost of highway crashes at $230.6 billion a year.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are also stepping up efforts on the commercial side of this issue. This year, their Roadcheck safety inspection blitz put more emphasis on getting bad drivers off the road.

“The last couple of years, truck-related safety issues have declined; now we're seeing more targeted activity against the bad offenders,” said Steve Keppler, CVSA's director of policy and programs.

During this year's Roadcheck, 6.2% of drivers were placed out of service, up from 5.6% last year. This is the highest Roadcheck driver out-of-service rate since 1999. The good news is that the number of seat belt violations was down significantly: 829, compared to 1,223 in 2006. However, The number of drivers discovered operating while disqualified this year was the highest in six years, comprising 3.6% of the total driver out-of-service (OOS) violations.

Drivers operating while suspended comprised 3.9% of the driver OOS violations, up from 3.3% last year. One other piece of driver data worth noting is that drug and alcohol violations represented 1.5% of the total OOS violations, up from 0.9% last year.

It just goes to show that stepped up enforcement is getting more results. No more excuses: it's got to be done.

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