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Radar gunA familiar scenario: You’re driving along the highways and byways of Fluvanna County – perhaps in a hurry, perhaps just not paying attention – and you suddenly see those flashing blue lights in the rearview mirror.

According to statistics provided by the Fluvanna County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO), deputies made 2,995 traffic stops between Aug. 1, 2016, and Aug. 1, 2017, and issued 903 traffic summonses. Of those, 476 were for speeding, 66 were for reckless driving, and 12 were reckless driving at 20 miles per hour (mph) or more over the posted limit. Deputies also made 74 arrests for driving while intoxicated.

Capt. David Wells of the FCSO said the overall goal of traffic enforcement is safety. “We try to focus on needs-based enforcement,” he said. “We target locations that either generated traffic-related complaints [or] an area that may be prone to motor vehicle crashes.”

Deputies responded to 473 crashes since August 2016, and three people were killed in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer on Route 15 in late January, but the emphasis on the most trouble-prone areas has helped improve overall safety. Earlier this year the county was recognized by the Department of Motor Vehicles for having zero traffic fatalities in 2016. 

Wells made it clear that there are no quotas or set number of tickets a deputy has to issue. “Traffic enforcement is part of what we do to ensure that everyone makes it home as safe as possible,” he said.

Once a traffic citation has been issued by law enforcement, it moves to the courts.

Of the 281 cases called in Fluvanna County General District Court in the month of July, nearly 40 percent were speeding tickets or driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. Dozens more were traffic-stop related cases ranging from citations for illegally tinted windows to overdue inspections and expired tags.

Reckless driving and DWI charges are class 1 misdemeanors, which can carry high fines and possible jail time, and should be handled with the help of a lawyer.

Many tickets, however, can be handled by paying fines and court costs established by the state.

Whatever the fines and fees, they have to be paid within 30 days. Courts do allow people to set up a payment plan to pay fines over time, but it can still be a struggle for many to come up with those monthly payments and this, in turn, can trigger return trips to General District Court for failure to pay. Eventually, this can result in suspension of a driver’s license.

According to a report made to the Virginia House Appropriations Committee in January, there are currently an estimated 650,000 Virginians whose licenses have been suspended due to failure to pay fines, with 281,000 orders to revoke in 2016 alone. Because suspensions are a real hardship, particularly for those in rural areas with few public transit options, the state has periodically looked for alternatives, but so far has yet to come up with a workable plan.

Last year, judges across Virginia assessed $429 million in traffic fines and the state collected $360 million. Another $6.2 million was paid through community service.