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Dumbest Law of 2014? MI driver responsibility fees eliminated

Terrible new law would help the most unsafe and dangerous drivers stay on our roads

driver responsibility feesThere are some very dangerous drivers on our roads. There are people who have been convicted of drinking and driving  – on several occasions. There are drivers who have killed people and who have caused multiple serious car accidents. There are drivers who have more points on their driving records than the Detroit Lions typically score in football games.

We all play a form of Russian Roulette whenever we get in our cars and drive with our families, hoping that we don’t encounter these proven dangerous drivers.

I regularly see these incredibly unsafe drivers in the cases I handle as an attorney.  I order the driving records of the people who have caused the automobile accidents that have injured the people I represent.  Here is one such driving record of a defendant in a recent case I just received (It has a whopping 46 license suspensions).

It isn’t a question of whether these people are going to hurt someone. It is a question of when.

That’s why I was so outraged by the new legislation passed by the Michigan House and Senate, nixing the driver responsibility fees in Michigan.  HB 5414 phases out the driver responsibility fees that are currently assessed on driving violations committed by the most dangerous drivers in our state – those drivers with seven or more points on their driving records.

Our current law (MCL 257.732a) requires motorists who accumulate seven or more points on their driving records to pay a driver responsibility fee of at least $100 for two consecutive years in addition to the traditional fines for moving violations.

Significantly, drivers who commit manslaughter, negligent homicide or are involved in a felony involving a car, or DUI, failing to stop at an automobile accident, or fleeing or eluding from the police, must pay a drivers responsibility fee of $1,000 per year for two consecutive years.

There’s also a two-year, $500 driver responsibility fee for other offenses.

Under HB 5414, sponsored by State Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland), all of these fees will be eliminated by 2018. The bill would do so by removing the second year of two-year driver responsibility fees beginning in 2017. It would do away with the entire drivers responsibility fee structure by late 2017.

Driver responsibility fees were enacted in 2004 to help fill a budget hole by raising about $100 million a year.  But they serve an important secondary purpose: They punish those who endanger our families by making incredibly unsafe driving decisions. Through this punishment, there’s also an added deterrent effect that hopefully makes our roads a little bit safer for all of us.

But for State Rep Haveman, presumably any tax is a bad tax – even when it means making it easier for the worst and most dangerous drivers to stay on our roads and endanger everyone else.  In published reports, Haveman has called the driver responsibility laws a “cash grab” for the state at the expense of drivers who can lose their license for non-payment.

But that’s the point. Again, it serves as a deterrent effect and added punishment.  We should not be making it easier to put these drivers with seven points or more back on our roads. We should be making it more difficult.

As an attorney who has been helping auto accident victims for nearly two decades, including many whose loved ones have been killed at the hands of drunk drivers and people with 20 or more points on their driving records, I can say to Rep. Haveman that these driver responsibility fees aren’t just about meeting budget obligations for the state.   They’re a way of holding the most irresponsible and most dangerous drivers accountable for hurting people and for breaking the traffic laws that we depend upon to protect us all.

Under Rep. Haveman’s logic, we should get rid of prisons and jails, because felons and hardened criminals are punished for the crimes they commit. Or perhaps it’s just the new brand of Republican and Tea Party Orthodoxy that any tax – even those that protect us at the expense of a small group of people who have through their demonstrated actions put others in danger – is a bad tax and must be eliminated.

Phasing these the driver responsibility fees in Michigan is outrageous. These fees are imposed only on our  worst and  most dangerous drivers. If they haven’t killed someone yet, then it was just luck and coincidence.  And if they have, they now have an easier path to getting back behind the wheel thanks to Rep. Haveman.

The next steps are the enrolled bill, and then Gov. Snyder’s signature. Gov. Snyder campaigned as a pragmatic and moderate Republican and businessman.  But I have little hope that Gov. Snyder will veto this irresponsible and very dangerous new law.

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Blog Author Steven M. Gursten
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