Looter Traffic Tickets

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This state – my state – has a thing for imposing grossly disproportionate-to-the-offense punishments. Oh, not on the cretins who murder, rape or even steal. It’s usually necessary to kill, rape or steal multiple times before my state begins to get cross-eyed.

But god help you if you get caught breaking the law… the traffic law, that is.

Virginia comes down hard, then.

Maybe because the “customers” pay better…

One of the favorite tools in Virginia’s kit is the “reckless driving” charge. On the face of it, to those unfamiliar with how things go down here, a reasonable assumption would be that you did something obviously run amok to get slapped with “reckless driving.” You know, 120 mph in a 45, weaving in and out like you were playing Frogger in your Fiesta. Drunk out of your mind, rooster-tailing through a soccer field full of kids. You get the idea.

Something, well, reckless. Where others were in real peril of bodily injury as a result of your actions. Something along those lines.

Not hardly. This is Virginia, after all. Here, you can get a “reckless driving” ticket for awful things like exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 20 mph. Back in the ’80s, when the 55 MPH max was still in force, I racked up half a dozen “reckless driving” tickets for doing 76–80 on the highway. Today – with the same highways posted 70 MPH, doing 76 or so is – at most – a very minor speeding ticket. I don’t expect to get a refund for all those years I paid double-tap insurance for having those “reckless driving” tickets on my DMV record.

But wait, there’s more.

A Republican ass clown (it’s always a Republican, isn’t it?) has brought forth a new “reckless driving” bear trap for you to get snared in. Richmond Republican Bill Janis thinks anyone who doesn’t come to an absolute dead stop before making a right on red should be cited for – you guessed it – reckless driving. His bill (HB 1993) also tosses in fines up to $2,500 for this offense and (yes, wait for it) jail time. Up to six months in the clink.

For a California Stop.

Best part? This is one of those situations where it’s at the cop’s discretion whether to charge you with being “reckless.” It could be that the intersection was obviously clear – no cars coming for miles – and thus, your California Stop, while maybe a technical violation of the statute, in no way threatened anyone’s safety. Let alone could be reasonably described as “reckless.” But get a dickhead cop who wants to make a point and you’ll get the cite. And that means, getting a lawyer – essential when it comes to a reckless driving beef. A court appearance is mandatory; you can’t just send a fine in via the mail. And if you lose, which you will without the help of your very own Johnnie Cochran – you know, someone like Bill Janis – it’s going to be a big deal. One that will continue to be a big deal for the next three years, at least. Because that’s the length of time that six-point demerit slap and the “reckless driving” charge smeared across your record will remain active. The nanosecond your insurance company finds out, you are assured of either having your premiums doubled – or your policy cancelled. A “reckless driving” conviction is cancer. You’re screwed.

And the most egregious part? The insurance company (and the courts) don’t care that you didn’t actually do anything reckless; that maybe there should be a distinction between committing a California Stop and something that sounds like (and might as well be) vehicular manslaughter or its slightly lesser brother.

Which brings up the issue of proportionality.

Fairly serious crimes – real crimes – often don’t carry with them such severe sanctions. For example, just this week in my home county, a loathsome cretin who forcibly kidnapped a young girl from her home and, with her partner, transported said minor girl across state lines to Pennsylvania for purposes you can no doubt imagine, received her sentence: One year in the clink. Yes, she received a “ten year” sentence – but nine were suspended. So, the actual punishment for kidnapping and (likely) child rape: One year. For a California stop? Six months.

Oh yeah: The kidnapping pederasts didn’t get socked with a $2,500 fine or lose their driving privileges, either.

The late great writer Sam Francis called this “anarcho-tyranny” – ordinary citizens facing increasingly severe and outlandish punishments over increasingly trivial/minor infractions; meanwhile, serious crime gets treated with kid gloves. Sam was onto something there.

“Law and order” Republicans like this Janis guy establish their macho-man credentials this way. We’re tough on crime, you see. Only, they’re not. They’re tough on us, tough on the Bill of Rights – tough on anything except defending liberty and reasonableness, the latter of which is a free society essential. Take it away and you’re left with a banana republic or something much darker than that, on the East German model.

That appears to be where we’re headed. Courtesy of guys like Bill Janis – who no doubt has an extra-large flag pin stuck on his lapel. Because he believes in freedom – and wants you to see it.

Update: Janis’ Bill has been tossed; but don’t expect this to be the end of it. To quote another Republican: He’ll be back.

Throw it in the Woods?

Reprinted with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.

Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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