Alexandria Families For Safe Street (AFSS) would like to express our appreciation to state Sen. Adam Ebbin, Del. Mark Levine and Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter for their efforts to amend traffic laws in Virginia. Both Sen. Ebbin and Del. Levine submitted bills that would have raised the level of penalties on drivers who violate the traffic laws and crash into a pedestrian causing serious injury or death. The current law states that unless a driver is deemed “reckless,” the penalty for that driver crashing into and seriously injuring or killing a pedestrian is a Class 4 Misdemeanor which carries a $50 to $250 fine and nothing more. If a driver is deemed to have been reckless (which is a very difficult standard to prove in court), then the driver would be charged with a felony and subject to much higher fines and/or loss of his/her driver license (and possibly jail).
Commonwealth Attorney Bryan Porter spent time with AFSS members in helping us understand the nuances of Virginia’s traffic laws. AFSS crash survivors as well as family members of a man killed in a recent crash went to Richmond in January to try to convey to several state senators and delegates the impact on victims and their family caused by drivers who break the law and crash into pedestrians. Sen. Ebbin and Del. Levine submitted separate bills that would have elevated the “non-reckless” driver with penalties to a Class 2 misdemeanor category. Whereupon, a judge could fine a driver up to a $1,000 fine and suspend the driver’s license for up to six months in a situation of killing a pedestrian. Unfortunately, the efforts of both of our local state representatives failed in this past legislative session.
Nevertheless, AFSS is committed to encouraging our state legislators to bring better balance to traffic penalties when a serious injury or killing results from a driver breaking the law. Right now, Virginia law also carries a Class 4 Misdemeanor for someone who uses “profane swearing or cursing in public.” While I don’t condone public profanity, the equivalent fine of public profanity being equal to crashing into a pedestrian and seriously injuring or killing that person seems egregiously out of balance. Higher penalties for traffic violence may deter drivers from negligent driving. We thank our state representatives for responding to AFSS’ concerns. Next year we hope penalties will be higher to help deter traffic violence on our citizens.
The writer is a founding member of Alexandria Families for Safe Streets, a grassroots coalition of traffic crash victims, family members and concerned citizens for street safety in Alexandria.