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Virginia Issues $238 Million in Traffic Tickets
Traffic tickets generate nearly a quarter billion in state and local revenue in Virginia.

Walter J. Kucharski
State and local police issued $238 million worth of traffic tickets in 2010, according to report released in September by the state auditor. The investigation used court data to calculate the total amount of fines and costs for motor vehicle violations amounted to $238,314,876. Citations issued under the state code generated $95,602,163 and local government ordinances accounted for $142,712,713. Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts Walter J. Kucharski examined the impact of cities increasingly writing tickets based on ordinances instead of state statutes.

Under Virginia's constitution, as revised in 1870, the proceeds from all fines issued under state law must go into the literary fund, which is used for public schools. The system was set up to create some separation between the function of policing and revenue generation. The General Assembly over time, however, enacted language allowing cities and counties to adopt "similar ordinances" to the state code allowing localities to collect fines without paying into the literary fund.

"Depending on the violation, this language could divert significant amounts of revenue from the commonwealth's literary fund into local government treasuries," the audit report explained. "However, until the localities enact the ordinances, a model for determining the fiscal impact currently does not exist."

When a local police officer pulls over a motorist, it is up to the officer to choose whether to write the ticket under state law or the local ordinance. Only state troopers are limited to citing under the state code alone.

Speeding tickets proved to be the biggest moneymaker overall, accounting for 54 percent of fine revenue. This amounted to $101 million plus $29.5 million in "reckless driving" tickets that are primarily issued for driving speeds over 80 MPH. Unlicensed driving generated $28 million. Failure to obey traffic signs and signals generated $18.1 million. Various equipment violations generated $15.1 million. Safety inspection tickets generated $12.5 million.

The top cities for issuing tickets were Virginia Beach at $8.4 million, Chesapeake $4.6 million, Richmond $4 million, Newport News $3.8 million and Hampton $3.2 million. Among counties, Fairfax County $20.2 million, Henrico $7.5 million, Prince William $7.1 million, Loudoun $6.1 million and Chesterfield $4.7 million.

A copy of the audit is available in a 800k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Local Ordinances and the Funding of Courts (Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts, 9/28/2011)

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