July 4, 2022

An Open Letter to Virginia Republican Lawmakers in Support of a Motorist Bill of Rights

By Richard McCarty

We believe that the Republican Party needs to expand its agenda to attract more urban and suburban voters — and we believe that motorist rights should be a key part of the Party’s agenda. Vehicles are a necessity for many Virginians, and our laws should set a high threshold that must be met before a vehicle can be seized or the owner barred from driving it. For too long, politicians in the Commonwealth have used traffic infractions to exact a hidden tax on unsuspecting motorists. While tickets and tows are minor inconveniences for the affluent, unexpected charges can be very disruptive and even devastating to lower-income families. As the party of family values and opportunity for all, Republicans must oppose policies that unnecessarily trap families in poverty and push them into government dependency.

Therefore, we urge you to support a Motorist Bill of Rights, which would

  1. Abolish the car tax. Virginia has one of the highest car taxes in the county, and the car tax is overwhelmingly hated. Throughout the last couple of years, many Virginia families have had to tighten their belts, and there is no good reason that local governments should not be expected to do likewise. This issue is especially important due to rising car valuations caused by the chip shortage.
  2. Ban traffic ticket quotas, as about 20 states have already done. Both the public and police officers oppose traffic ticket quotas. In fact, the Virginia Police Benevolent Association supports a quota ban.
  3. Ban the practice of using unmarked police vehicles for traffic enforcement. There are regular news reports of police impostors making illegal traffic stops with unmarked vehicles; this is a serious threat to public safety. Requiring marked vehicles for routine stops would make it harder for fake cops to endanger motorists.
  4. Ban red light cameras. Two red light camera companies have been involved in bribery scandals. One of these companies allegedly bribed officials in a dozen states, including Virginia. Furthermore, the yellow lights in two Hampton Roads localities were shortened after red light cameras were installed. Obviously, if safety were a real concern, the yellow lights would have been lengthened rather than shortened.
  5. Ban speed cameras. The same crony capitalist companies that collect 25-35% of red light camera revenue profit from speed cameras. As with red light cameras, speed cameras are often placed to maximize revenue rather than address real safety hazards.
  6. Rein in speed trap towns, such as Emporia, Hopewell, and Windsor. To discourage taxation by citation schemes, Virginia should limit localities’ traffic ticket revenue to no more than 1% of their general fund; any excess funds should go to the state.
  7. Allow motorists to contest traffic tickets by mail or online. Nine states already permit traffic tickets to be contested by mail. Many people, due to poverty or work or family obligations, have difficulty going to traffic court; but these people still deserve justice. Of course, this reform would also be convenient for police officers.
  8. Prohibit “court costs” and “convenience fees.” Court maintenance, court security, and government pensions should be funded from general taxes, not fees; most businesses do not charge extra fees for credit or debit cards, and the government should also stop the practice.
  9. Abolish interest and cap late fees on tickets; late fees on unpaid traffic tickets should be reduced to no more than $50. Tickets are to promote public safety, not to provide windfall profits to local governments. Capping late fees would also help prevent the poor from being buried in mountains of debt.
  10. Stop the practice of blocking car registrations over unpaid tickets and tolls. When vehicle owners are blocked from registering their vehicles, it makes it more difficult for them to work, to support themselves and their families, and to pay their debts.
  11. Restrict tolls and toll collections. Tolls and late fees for unpaid tolls should be minimized and strictly capped; and toll expenditures should be limited to paying for the maintenance and improvement of the toll road and any alternate routes (and reasonable profits for toll road companies).
  12. Allow the private sector to fully compete with the Department of Motor Vehicles as Arizona has done. The DMV miserably failed its customers over the past year; customers should have the choice of conducting DMV business at privately-run offices. The competition would result in better customer service, and taxpayer money would be saved.
  13. Reduce the number of mandatory inspections. Annual vehicle inspections should either be abolished or changed to 2-year inspections. Virginia is one of only 15 states that mandates periodic vehicle inspections; some of these only require biennial inspections; 16 states have abolished their inspection programs since the 1970s, and not a single one has reinstituted its program. Over 68% of Virginia voters support making inspections biennial.
  14. Crack down on predatory towing. Predatory towing companies should be required to immediately return vehicles to their owners when they show up to claim them — rather than allow these companies to hold vehicles for ransom as current law allows. The status quo results in many low-income drivers permanently losing their vehicles without any due process, which is completely unacceptable. Predatory towing often leads to angry disputes that sometimes end in violence, and even death; much of this violence could likely be avoided if vehicle owners were able to retrieve their vehicles immediately without payment and have a judge rule on the legitimacy of a tow after a presentation of evidence. Towing companies should also be required to wait at least 15 minutes before a vehicle can be towed to allow drivers time to discover they have parked in the wrong space, to retrieve a visitor hang tag, etc.
  15. Set up a statewide trespass towing database as Utah has done. Such a database would make it easier for motorists to locate towed vehicles and would also provide a valuable source of information on the size and scope of the predatory towing problem in Virginia.

In the recent elections, Virginia voters were given a chance to vote for change or for the status quo; and they voted for change, which is what they deserve. If the Republican Party delivers for the roughly 6 million motorists in Virginia, we believe you will be rewarded at the polls next year.

If you’d like to read more about the rationale for these reforms, please check out the op-ed I co-authored with several State Central Committee colleagues. https://therepublicanstandard.com/featured/op-ed-virginians-deserve-a-motorist-bill-of-rights/trs-op-ed/2021/12/

Click here to sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/virginia-state-house-ban-traffic-ticket-quotas-in-virginia

Richard McCarty is the Founder of Coalition for Motorist Rights.

 

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