Thursday, November 8, 2012

Traffic court notes

We attended the court session in Vienna on Monday, November 5 to hear the case against a motorist, John Thorpe,  who was alleged to have intentionally struck a cyclist. That case was once again postponed until January 7 because the cyclist was not present. Mr. Thorpe and three witnesses were there and they agreed to return.

Before that case was heard there were many, many cases involving motorist infractions. Only the most blatant offenders ever get to traffic court. Police don't write speeding tickets unless motorists are going 10mph or more over the limit. For a DUI your blood alcohol level must be 0.08% or greater. For a 160 lb adult, that level is equivalent to drinking between 5-6 beers in 2 hours.

It was a little depressing to see so many motorists treated very lightly for speeding and being convicted of DUI. Several of the speeding tickets were changed to "Failure to pay full time and attention," a Town of Vienna charge which is bacically a slap on the wrist that does not result in points on one's drivers license.

One motorist was charged with speeding. He had +1 points on his license and the judge said he had a "good record" and he changed the charges to "Failure to pay full time and attention". According to VA DMV, "For every full calendar year that you hold a valid Virginia license and have no violations or suspensions, you get one safe driving point. You can earn up to five of them and use them to offset your demerit points." In my opinion, an adult with only +1 points does not have a good driving record.

In most of the DUI cases the Town Attorney recommended a fine of $2,500, 180 days in jail, and 1 year revocation of the driver's license. In all of those cases the fine was reduced, usually to less than $1,000. Jail time was reduced to 5 days or less. In one case the fine was reduced to $500, and there was no jail time. No one was given the recommended punishment. So much for being tough on drunk drivers. From the DMV:
Virginia is tough on drunk drivers, and with good reason. One out of every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash during their lives. Alcohol-related injuries occur about every two minutes, and fatalities occur every 32 minutes, on average. That is why it's important to know the facts about driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and to avoid this behavior entirely.

If you've never had a DUI, you might not realize that it's not a traffic violation―it's a criminal offense. You'll be handcuffed, carted off to the police station, and required to go to court.
These motorists are the real scofflaws. They endanger lives and are the worst of the worst and yet they are treated very lightly. As a society we've become insensitive to the damage being done by these drunk and aggressive drivers. It's sad to see the court treat them so lightly.

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Pretty shameful. Especially with the DUI and other offenses that very directly endanger others, I would happily trade off fines and jail for what today would be considered draconian suspensions and revocations of driving privileges.

For instance, the lady who intentionally ran over the sidewalk to go around a stopped school bus has to wear a stupid sign, but will only be off the road for 30 days. I don't care about a sign, or jail, or anything like that. You've acted without judgment, proven yourself unsuitable to operate a car, hand in your license, and rediscover a bike or bus.

Perhaps the powers-that-be would be persuaded to reexamine the vehicle code by framing harsher license revocations in lieu of fines/jail as a congestion mitigation measure....
The biggest problem with revocations and suspensions is that they don't do a very good job at keeping offenders off the road, either -- they just drive, much as unlicensed individuals do. If the system added to those penalties the confiscation (or impoundment for the duration of suspension) of the motor vehicle for really serious or repeat offenders, and that will be more likely to deter folks.

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