July 1, 2007 -- Virginians vacationing for the July 4 holiday might want to drive extra slowly and safely as of midnight Sunday morning.
Traffic fines in the state are set to rise dramatically, ranging from the $750 fine for driving without a license to the eyebrow raising $1,050 speeding ticket.
Dave Albo, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, believes the state ran out of other options.
"I don't know what else to do except make the punishments so tough on these massive speeders that they won't do it anymore," said Albo, the author of the new legislation and a Republican from Fairfax County.
The maximum fines are for drivers who are caught going 20 miles or more over the speed limit, which is now legally considered "reckless."
Virginian Carla Watkins said the reckless behavior she sees keeps her off the roads altogether.
"That's why I walk, because I see crazy stuff," Watkins said, adding that she's more comfortable when her son rides the bus.
Alexandria, Va., police officer Patrick McGee said he supports the law, but doesn't know if it will fix that "crazy stuff" on the state's roads.
"It is going to take a while to sink into people," said McGee. "Do I think it is going to make a huge difference? No."
Indeed, the law won't apply to all drivers, just Virginians driving on Virginia's roads. Out-of-state drivers will continue to pay the standard fines. And in fact, deterring bad driving is just one of the bill's aims -- and not even necessarily the primary one.
The Virginia laws are similar to those in New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas -- all designed to raise tens of millions of dollars for state transportation. Virginia legislators hope to raise between $65 and $80 million for transportation projects this year alone from the new fines.
Critics say that essentially makes it a regressive tax.
"It is going to slam the people at the lower economic scale, because it treats the day laborer who gets pulled over the same way it treats a doctor," said Thaddeus Furlong, a defense attorney.
Even the author of the legislation admits he speeds -- just not that much.
"I drive probably about nine miles over the speed limit," Albo said, "and I am like standing still, it is scary."
The hope is that if potential accidents aren't scary enough to deter unsafe drivers, massive fines will be.