Sunday, November 28, 2010

Semper Fi and Why I Don't Break the Speed Limit

My best friend is a marine in the reserves and left today to return to his units hometown. After that he'll be heading out to Camp Lejeune for another month or two before he ships out with his fellow marines to Afghanistan and I won't get to see him again for a long time. I want to wish him and his men the best of luck and I hope for them all to come home safe.

Back on the home front, though, we all face problems that, while not as terrible as being away from your family for Christmas (military families excluded, of course) they can still cause us no end of pain. One I want to discuss right now are traffic tickets.

Last year I ended up racking up around five hundred dollars in various speeding tickets. I dealt with them as necessary but afterwards decided that I wasn't going to speed anymore. Not only would more tickets be bad for my insurance and my driving record, but the cost of the tickets alone was insane. So keeping to that vow, I have always made sure to stay just under or at the speed limit since then.

I know a lot of people might be laughing at me for this, but for me five hundred dollars is a lot of money. If I had that extra money in my bank account right now, I would be quite happy. Certainly I would be happy to spend it on something besides a speeding ticket. That's why I bring this up, because the last thing anyone needs is a surprise expense from having to pay a few hundred dollars for speeding. Not only that, but as the economy gets worse, you're going to see more cops out with radar guns.

Harris County, TX is currently in the middle of a budget freeze. That means no new hiring, no raises. I have no doubt that the budgets for the various departments under the county's control have been slashed and may be slashed even more. So where do they get extra money? Traffic citations. Now the official documentation will tell you that the money collected from traffic citations goes towards educational programs to prevent accidents. That's all well and good, but I've been a treasurer and I know the basics of how budgets work.

Like a balloon, a budget can be squeezed at one end to make another part bigger but you're always going to have the same amount of air in the balloon. The remedy for this is to blow the balloon up bigger and for this argument, the money collected from traffic citations will make this possible. Even if the money actually does go into a fund for traffic safety and education, that's still money the county doesn't have to spend from their main budget. So if nothing else, the citations will help them save money. This is true of any city or country around the country and I doubt highly that Harris County is the only place that is having budget freezes.

Since I made my vow of no speeding, I've also made sure to pay close attention to the road as I'm driving since I know cops are sneaky and like to had with their speeding guns. Let me tell you, I've been driving the same route to work for about four years now and I've seen more and more cops appearing in places I've never seen them before. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why, especially since the last election day the people of Houston voted to have the red light cameras shut down. That's more revenue for the city lost and they intend to make that up any way they can.

I took defensive driving for one of the tickets I got last year (still had to pay almost as much for the class that I would have paid for the ticket, hence the total was still around five hundred dollars). During the course, which I took online, one of the frequent arguments that was brought up in the lecture was that cops should be chasing after real criminals and not bothering me because I'm trying to get to work on time. The instructor pointed out that real criminals get fined large amounts but rarely have the money to pay those fines. So chasing real criminals costs the departments more money, while enforcing traffic laws generates money. After all, if I'm going to jail for five, ten or twenty years, why the hell would I worry about a ten thousand dollar fine? On the other hand, if I'm a law abiding citizen who was going over the speed limit, I've got a lot more to lose if I refuse to pay the two hundred dollar fine and end up going to jail over it.

So if nothing else, in the interest of keeping your money out of the governments hands and in your pocket, watch your speed on the roads. If you take some time and open your eyes, you realize that they're showing up more and more frequently everywhere, trying to make up for the budget deficits that they have. Because unlike the federal government, states, counties and cities can't print up new money when they run out.

Peace be with you.

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