Del. traffic fines to rise?
By Drew Volturo, Delaware State News

DOVER — Motorists who speed, run red lights and drive under the influence could be taking a more severe hit to the wallet in the near future.

A proposal to increase most traffic fines — the first comprehensive hike in fines since 1991, when they were raised 15 percent — is expected to be introduced in the coming days, said Rep. Gregory F. Lavelle, R-Wilmington, who is pushing the legislation.

Rep. Lavelle said the increase in fines would generate about $8 million to $10 million that “would be dedicated to the beleaguered Transportation Trust Fund,” which is facing a six-year, $1.5-billion shortfall.

“Many fines haven’t been increased in years,” said Rep. Lavelle, noting that speeding, inattentive driving and reckless driving have not been increased since 1986.

“One of the complaints I hear about the most as a legislator is speeding. My hope is that through financial disincentives, we can encourage people to slow down and make our streets safer.”

Currently, speeding carries a fine for a first offense of $20-$140.

Under the proposal, it would be broken down by miles per hour over the limit: one to nine mph over would be $80; 10-14 mph over, $100; 15-19 mph over, $200; and 20 or more mph over, $400.

Fines for reckless driving and aggressive driving would jump from $100-$300 for a first offense to $200-$400.

Driving under the influence fines would be doubled for most offenses, with the minimum for a first offense climbing from $230 to $500, a second infraction jumping from $575 to $1,000, a third from $1,000 to $3,000 and a fourth offense spiking from $2,000 to $5,000.

Delaware has some of the lowest traffic fines in the country, which doesn’t deter many drivers from violating traffic laws, said Office of Highway Safety spokeswoman Andrea Summers.

“If people realize that it’s going to cost them a lot more for speeding, then they might think twice before doing it,” Ms. Summers said. “We need that deterrent factor.

“There are states like Virginia that have really high traffic fines and people know not to drive recklessly or they’ll have to pay.”

Help for trust fund?

In January, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner rolled out a series of proposed tax, fee and toll increases designed to close the funding gap, but several lawmakers were critical of the plan.

Last week, House Minority Leader Rep. Robert F. Gilligan, D-Wilmington, pulled House Bill 50, which would have increased the motor fuel tax, vehicle registration fees and vehicle documentation fees, because there wasn’t support for the measure.

Mark T. Brainard, Gov. Minner’s chief of staff, said the governor would review the legislation in its final form if it reaches her desk, but noted that the trust fund needs money.

“Revenues for the trust fund have not increased in years,” Mr. Brainard said. “It’s time to feed it.

“How the administration and financial leadership team arrives at that solution … as long as it gets done, that’s the important thing.”

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Anthony J. DeLuca, D-Newark, said the proposal might end up being considered by the Big Head Committee, an unofficial group of legislative leaders who meet behind closed doors to discuss financial matters.

Sen. DeLuca said he signed on as a co-sponsor of the measure because it would provide a dedicated revenue stream for the Transportation Trust Fund while discouraging unsafe behavior.

“On the one hand, you’re looking at a source of funding, but it also could cut down on offenses,” Sen. DeLuca said.

“We would get nothing but positives out of this. If people slow down because they don’t want to pay a huge fine, then the roads are safer.”

Joint Finance Committee co-chair Rep. William A. Oberle Jr., R-Newark, said the measure would provide some sorely needed money in a year when revenue estimates have fallen and the operating and capital budgets are stretched thin.

The proposal might be more palpable to legislators because it only impacts those who break the law, Rep. Oberle said, unlike the proposed motor fuel tax increase, which would affect all motorists at the pump.

“It’s on the table with a number of other proposals,” said Rep. Oberle, who along with Sen. DeLuca serve on the Big Head Committee. “It’s one of the many proposals we’re looking at.”

Staff writer Drew Volturo

can be reached at 741-8296