License to Speed? Pre-Paid Traffic Tickets Spark National Debate

NEW YORK – Let’s face it. Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket. So the National Motorists Association has come up with what they think is a brilliant idea: Pre-paid traffic tickets.

Now, the insurance-like program, which offers to pay for DUI violations as well, has sparked a nationwide controversy about safety on America’s roads.

The program works like this: For a monthly fee of $5 to $50 – the amount varying based on the amount of coverage – NMA members can ‘insure’ themselves for up to $1,000 of traffic violations each month. As long as the ticket involves points on the license, the association will pick up the tab. The violation can be anything from speeding and illegal lane changes to drunk or reckless driving.

“It seems that more and more these days, the (traffic) laws are unjust,” says Eric Skrum, a spokesperson for the driver advocacy group. “This is simply a way to help people fight unwarranted and unjustified tickets.”

The NMA offers a ‘legal defense kit’ to all those who enroll in the ‘pre-paid’ program (they can’t officially call it insurance because they are not licensed to sell policies). The purpose of the 9-pound kit, Skrum said, is to point out ways in which officers can get things wrong, not to highlight loopholes in the law.

“We just want to make people aware of their legal rights,” he said.

But the American Automobile Association, the nation’s oldest motoring club, sees it differently.

“It’s clear you’re paying because you’re anticipating breaking the law,” says Mantill Williams, AAA’s national spokesperson. “It flies in the face of good sense and logic and we don’t think it’s going to promote safe driving.”

Indeed, some statistical studies have shown a direct link between excessive speed and traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly a third of all fatal crashes in 1998 were speed-related. In addition to the human tragedy, the economic impact of such accidents averages to nearly $30 billion a year.

But the Wisconsin-based NMA, which lobbied to eliminate the 55-mph national speed limit in 1995, insists that many of the country’s speed limits are under posted. According to Skrum, politics influences posted speed limits more than engineering studies do, with some states under posting ‘for revenue purposes alone,’ he said. The message: Just because you were caught speeding doesn’t necessarily mean you were driving dangerously.

Driving fast and driving recklessly are separate issues- says Bill Topusa, a criminal lawyer– and the normal deterrence to reckless driving are still there: “People don’t want to hurt themselves. They don’t want to damage their cars. They don’t want to injure others. And they don’t want to pay higher premiums,” he says.

So far, about 30 people have signed up for the pre-paid traffic tickets. But if the NMA deems the program useful to its 7,000 members, it may extend the offer to non-members as well. That is, only if Wisconsin’s Insurance Commission – which is currently looking into the legality of the program – doesn’t nip the program in the bud first.

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