A federally funded ticketing blitz in the state of Virginia landed a total of 6996 traffic tickets this weekend. The blitz, dubbed “Operation Air, Land & Speed” coincided with frantic efforts by state officials to close a$2.2 billion budget deficit. Supervisors ordered state troopers to saturate Interstates 81 and 95 to issue as many tickets as humanly possible over the space of two days.
“The safety of Virginia’s highways begins the minute a vehicle is put in ‘drive,’” Virginia State Police Superintendent W. Steven Flaherty said in a statement. “Those split second decisions to choose not to drive drunk, to choose to wear a seat belt and to choose not to speed or drive aggressively really do make a difference in preventing and/or surviving a crash.”
Officers had no trouble delivering the requested number of speeding tickets with a total of 3536 ordinary speeding citations written. In addition, another 717 “reckless driving” tickets were filed, although these most often are simple speeding tickets that happen to carry a fine of up to $2500. Driving as little as 10 to 15 MPH over the limit can qualify for this enhanced punishment. On the other end of the scale, some 310 tickets were handed to drivers who either forgot to wear their seatbelts or made a choice not to do so.
Activists with the National Motorists Association pointed out that enforcement efforts may have concentrated on areas where speed limits are expected to rise to 70 MPH following Governor Bob McDonnell’s signature on legislation raising the state’s maximum speed limit (view law). This would mean a significant number of tickets were issued for conduct that will be perfectly legal in a matter of months. The group also indicated that state police tactics may run afoul of state law.
“All officers making arrests incident to the enforcement of this title shall be paid fixed salaries for their services and shall have no interest in, nor be permitted by law to accept the benefit of, any fine or fee resulting from the arrest or conviction of an offender against any provision of this title,” Virginia Code Section 46.2-102 states.
Under the federal grant application process, state officials explained that they would pay officers overtime — at least one-and-a-half times their normal salary — to participate. This special reward for ticketing operation participants appears to violate the spirit of state law.
Since 2006, a total of twenty-three ticketing blitzes have taken place, generating 120,977 traffic tickets.