I got pulled over for supposedly going 53 in a 35-mph zone, by a policeman driving in the other direction on Sheridan Road in Lake Forest, Illinois. I'd say I was going somewhere around 40-45 -- the exact speed really doesn't matter, because I was going faster than the posted limit. But so was everyone else on Sheridan Road that day. Lake Forest's finest simply decided to make some money for their already-wealthy suburb that afternoon, and what better source of revenue than absent-minded motorists out for a Sunday drive? I saw several other motorists being pulled over that same afternoon, when I drove to the Lake Forest police station to pay the fine and retrieve my driver's license. (Out here, when a cop gives you a ticket, he takes your license and hands you a paper saying, "The bearer is a naughty boy." This threw me for a loop. Why do they have to take your license -- do they think you're going to head for Mexico or something?)
Police departments may or may not have ticket quotas for their officers -- they always claim they don't, and this is probably true, in the strict sense. However, the Connecticut state legislature saw fit to enact a law banning ticket quotas a few years ago -- seems like a lot of bother, to ban something no one's doing in the first place, doesn't it? In any case, however, cities and towns, large and small, use moving violations as a source of revenue first, and as a traffic-safety measure last. For example, according to the Columbus Dispatch, there are 27 municipalities in Ohio that have actually collected more revenue from traffic tickets than from taxes in the 1990s!
I've got a solution to this problem. It would end taxation by ticketing and curtail the arbitrary and capricious traffic enforcement that is the bane of every motorist.
My scheme is simple: All traffic-ticket revenues should go into a state-administered fund, instead of to the municipality that wrote the ticket. At the end of the year, all revenues, less the cost of administering the program (which would be low -- one clerk with a decent computer could do it in his spare time) are redistributed evenly among all motorists in the state who did not have tickets during the year.
This solution would take away the incentive for cities and towns to ticket motorists for the sole purpose of raising revenue. There would be no adverse consequences for traffic safety, because cops could still write all the tickets they wanted -- but the money would go back to the state's safe drivers, instead of into the municipal coffers.
Obviously, this idea would go over like a lead balloon with cities and towns, because of the money it would cost them. But for any state legislators who might be hanging on every word of this column, think of the political points you could score with the voters, by passing a law ending taxation by ticket!
Copyright © 1998 John J. Kafalas