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As Long as We Remember...

February 3, 2011

Another Attack on Your Wallet

Chris Cavey

The past several years have shown the State of Maryland clearly believes its drivers are in need of changing their driving habits; first came the speed cameras and now a “tax” on drivers who accumulate multiple points on their driving records. Negative reinforcement does not make good government.


The latest attempt at behavior modification for Maryland drivers stems from Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget in which a fine of $100 per point for each point over five points on your driving record within a five year period would be created. The fines would be paid by the driver annually as accrued or until the driving record clears.


This would generate about $9 million in revenue, really upset a lot of people and doubtfully change any bad habits. Every auto insurance agent in Maryland knows bad drivers typically are not inhibited by the higher cost of driving. They expect a higher cost, plan for it and pay for it.


The new law is not just for the drunk and drugged drivers. It is based on the assessed driver point system. So, 16-year old “Johnny,” who gets a two-point speeding ticket each of the first three years as a driver, is paying the fine, too. The 60% or more increase in his insurance premiums does little behavior modification…doubtfully a MVA fine will either.


Speed cameras are the same, tools of negative behavior modification. Contractors budget into the cost of doing business the enormity of $40 tickets their employees receive while violating the law in company trucks. Employee behavior is not modified, plus, you and I pay the fines as the contractor increases his charges due to the increased cost of doing business.


(A side note: You cannot tax a business. It will only pass the cost along to the end user – the consumer. This is the same theory.)


Safety of workers on our roads and highways is very important. Proper speed enforcement around our children and schools should be mandatory. I have never argued safety out of the equation. I believe it to be an obligation of the government to protect its citizens…especially those who cannot protect themselves. The methods, however, are wrong.


Many government agencies are pleased with their revenue stream from speed cameras. Some are seeking to increase the overall numbers to higher or unlimited amounts. No one is, however, talking about harsher penalties…only increasing the volume and frequency of the total tickets issued. In other words, the revenue stream has become the primary focus – not the safety.


The speed-camera tickets are intentionally kept at $40 (with no assessed points) because most will be paid without thought, never disputed and many repeated. If the fine for this type of public safety violations, with an automobile, was $500 and a 30-day suspension of your driver’s license, perhaps a few more people would think.


If the penalty on a drunk or drugged driver was loss of driving privileges for a year and suspension of tags for all vehicles owned – perhaps the effect would drive home the severity of their actions. If the governor and the General Assembly are serious about safety, they should be equally serious about the penalties inflicted.


My experience in the insurance business shows positive behavior modification has the best results. Everyone loves a discount and everyone loves to gain some sort of reward. All major insurance companies in Maryland use both positive and negative driver ratings.


What impact on safety would a new law have if it rewarded safe driving? No accidents or tickets for five years get you 10% off your vehicle renewal registration. Ten years or more as a safe driver and you receive a 20% discount on your vehicle registration and no charge to renew your driver license!


My experience tells me people would be very interested. Would we still have bad drivers? Sure. Would it cause modification in driver behavior? Every insurance company already knows, long-term, it works.


(Another side note: County governments already reward positive behaviors as they discount the property tax for early payment!)


Lawmakers need to re-evaluate their goals. If it is revenue, then do what you must do. Have the guts to openly tax your citizens and do not hide behind the issue of safety. If your goal is safety, then severely punish those who would jeopardize the lives of others. If behavior modification is the objective…you will be more successful taking a positive path.


Your current path does not lead to good government.


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