Extra fees bloat speeding tickets

Sunday, June 30, 2002

By Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writer



So there you are, zipping along an eight-lane interstate with a bunch of the 36.7 million people who will take to the highways this holiday week, when the wail of a siren startles you out of your lead-footedness.















Speed trap map











On the side of the road, you chat with the stern trooper who's pulled you over. You wince when he tells you how fast you were traveling.

Then you wince even harder when you check out the ticket he's handed you, listing not only your speeding fine but also a wallet-busting array of other fees and charges that you're required to cough up.

Get caught speeding in Pennsylvania or neighboring states and you're likely to shell out for computer improvements, jail construction or other projects that benefit the community where you got caught.

Thanksgiving weekend is generally believed to be the busiest holiday travel weekend of the year. But the American Automobile Association says it expects travel to be heavier than usual this week because July 4 falls on Thursday, providing opportunities for long weekend jaunts.

If you plan to hit the road this week, be aware that traffic enforcement will be heavy and penalties for speeders will be stiff -- usually $100 and up -- almost anywhere you go.

No longer is a speeding ticket just a ticket. Cash-short state, county and municipal governments have tacked on other fees, for everything from bulletproof vests to jails to emergency medical services.

Proponents say it acts as a deterrent to speeding by hitting drivers in their pocketbooks. Plus, it allows towns to raise money for projects they otherwise could not afford.

Often, the projects are related to law enforcement or criminal justice.

"Fines have tended to increase gradually over time," said AAA spokesman Mantill Williams, whose organization monitors motor laws and traffic fines nationwide.

"You see it happen especially when police feel that speeding is continuing in an area and they are not getting a response from motorists. [Governments] also may tack on a separate fine for a specific purpose to meet a local need."

In Pennsylvania, the $25 base fine for speeding grows depending on how much a motorist exceeds the speed limit. Get caught driving 71 mph on a 65-mph interstate, for example, and your base fine jumps to $44.50.

It's $62.50 if you're clocked at 81 mph or above, according to Pennsylvania State Police spokeswoman Linette Quinn. Fines are distributed to benefit municipalities where the speeding offense occurred, she said.

Added to the fines are $28 in court costs and additional fees of $10 for an Emergency Medical Services fund and $1.50 for a fund to enhance computer systems in state courts. Depending on the severity of your offense, you'll also see points attached to your driving record.

Again, depending on your offense, you'll pay between $30 and $50 to the state's Catastrophic Loss Trust Fund, which was set up in 1984 to defray medical bills of people who were seriously hurt in traffic accidents. The CAT Fund law was repealed in 1989, but the fund still needs money to pay benefits to about 750 people who were hurt before the repeal.

Neighboring states, too, have beefed up speeding fines or added various fees or charges that bring the cost of a speeding ticket to at least a hundred bucks.

MARYLAND No special fees or costs are tacked onto tickets, but fines are steep and enforcement is aggressive. The basic fine is $60 if you're clocked at 1 to 9 mph over the speed limit. From 10 to 19 mph over the limit, it's $70, and from 20 to 29 mph, it jumps to $135.

If you're caught exceeding the 65-mph speed limit on an interstate highway by 20 to 29 mph, you'll be banged for $270. You won't pay court costs unless you unsuccessfully appeal the ticket in court.

"We also watch for and give out lots of citations on holiday weekends for negligent driving and aggressive driving," Maryland state police Cpl. Rob Moroney said. That covers tailgating, cutting off other drivers or doing both while speeding; a negligent-driving ticket costs $270 and an aggressive driving ticket is $350.

NEW JERSEY Fines vary depending on your speed and are determined by local courts. They generally start around $78 and can run as high as $250 if you're caught driving at 35 mph or more above the speed limit. Fines are doubled if you're caught speeding in a 65 mph or construction zone.

The fine includes about $30 in court costs; you'll pay additional costs if you challenge the ticket in court and lose. One dollar of the fine goes to a fund that buys bulletproof vests for police, $1 goes to a fund for spinal-cord injury research and 50 cents goes to a training fund for emergency medical technicians.

NEW YORK Again, ticket costs depend on your speed and the local court, but they generally start at $60 and can run as high as $400 if you were driving 30 mph or more over the speed limit. You also could be sentenced to 15 to 30 days in jail for a particularly egregious case of speeding, such as driving 30 miles over the limit and cutting people off.

Court costs are an additional $15 to $25. No additional costs for funds or programs accompany the fines.

OHIO Here you'll find the broadest array of fines, costs and special fees, which change in just about every town and county. The array is so vast, Ohio state police Sgt. Robin Schmutz said that many troopers carry sheets listing fines and costs for each of the municipalities covered by their barracks.

Get caught speeding on Route 22 in Steubenville, however, and you'll pay fines and costs between $54 and $194, depending on your speed. Of that, $11 goes to state programs, $9 goes to a fund to aid crime victims, $24 goes to court costs and the rest is the speeding fine that goes to the city.

Farther south, on Interstate 70 in Bridgeport, you'll pay anywhere from $73 to $146 if you're pulled over. Costs vary from a paltry $15 total to more than $100 in communities around Youngstown and Warren.

WEST VIRGINIA Again, fines and fees vary between municipalities. Generally, the base ticket cost for speeders who are caught going 1 to 9 mph over the speed limit is $115.25.

Just $5 of that is the fine for speeding. Court costs take up another $10. The fine jumps by $5 if you're caught driving 10 to 14 mph, $10 more if you're caught at 15 to 20 mph over the limit, and by $2 a mile for speeds above that.

The rest of the ticket cost goes to bolster state funds or programs -- $40 to build and maintain regional jails, $43.25 to defray costs of running the jails, $10 to aid crime victims, $5 to help with costs of running state courts, and $2 toward training costs at the state police academy.

"The ticket itself is relatively inexpensive. It's the other costs that get you when you add them up," West Virginia state police Lt. Mark Neal said. "We are trying to deter speeding and to help with the costs [of programs] that help the public but can be very expensive propositions to run."

People at the receiving end of the ticket, however, often view the added fees as an opportune revenue grab.

"I couldn't believe it. The fine was bad enough, but then they tack all that other stuff onto it," said Courtney Hower, 18, a construction worker from Hadley, Mercer County. He said he was outraged by the $163.50 ticket he got in August when a trooper pulled him over and charged him with driving 23 mph over the limit on Interstate 79 near the Crawford-Erie County line.

Hower, who denied driving that fast, said he successfully appealed the ticket and got the fine and number of points reduced. Then he became the Pennsylvania coordinator for the National Motorists Association, a Madison, Wis.-based activist group formed in 1982 that promotes the rights of North American drivers and advises them on how to appeal traffic tickets.

The NMA maintains that it is unconstitutional for state or local governments to piggyback fees for other projects onto speeding tickets. That gives police an incentive to write tickets to raise money -- and to set up speed traps -- rather than to punish lawbreakers, NMA spokesman Eric Skrum said.

"Tickets should be about reducing accidents and fatalities, not about raising money," said Skrum, who said his organization did not advocate speeding or unsafe driving but was against what it believes is selective, unfair enforcement of traffic laws.

"It really is a huge revenue source, especially now when cities and states are in budget crunches. But the purpose of tickets is supposedly to promote safety, not to get the courthouse built."

The NMA, however, has not mounted a court challenge to the practice. Neither Skrum nor the AAA's Williams knows of any organization or person who has done so.

Instead, the NMA encourages motorists to fight tickets by advising them and providing legal-defense kits. It also is one of several groups that have set up Web sites where motorists can post and seek information about speed traps.