Planning on hitting the road for a long Fourth of July of weekend? Better watch your speed or you’ll feel it in the wallet.
Traffic offenses are set to grow much more costly on July 1. Anyone clocked up to 20 mph above the posted speed limit, for example, currently faces a minimum fine of $120; but thanks to new fees imposed by Springfield the minimum fine will jump to $251 after June 30.
That’s a 110-percent increase and it’s literally happening overnight.
The Illinois Vehicle Code is extensive and there was no bottom-line percentile by which fines will increase. Instead, Springfield imposed and/or increased four assessments — one to counties, another to arresting agencies etc. — that will cause minor traffic offenses to balloon past $200.
La Salle County circuit clerk Greg Vaccaro asked residents not to descend on his office with torches and pitchforks. The counties, he said, simply are passing along fees imposed by the Illinois General Assembly.
“The Legislature wanted to make fees uniform across the state,” Vaccaro explained. That the figures are jumping so abruptly is because three new laws passed since the 2017-18 legislative sessions are converging at the same time.
According to data supplied by Vaccaro’s office, virtually all criminal offenses will be subject to new fees and surcharges, but traffic violations account for most courthouse activity — tickets outnumber felonies 20-to-1 in La Salle County — and that means motorists are likely to be first to feel the pain.
Peru attorney Zach Milus, a former traffic prosecutor, said he sat down, did the math and realized his clients were in for “a little sticker shock” after the first of July.
The one that probably will hit hardest, Milus said, is non-insurance. The minimum fine for not carrying auto insurance was $300 for a first-time offense. Come July 1, that figure zooms to $625 and will be a hardship for those forgetful types who let their insurance policies lapse.
“It happens time and time again,” Milus said. “It ends up costing you way more than if you’d kept your policy up to date.”
And the increased fines will be tough to wriggle out of because there are no fee waivers available under the Illinois Vehicle Code. Judges have the power to reduce or waive fees for the poor in misdemeanor or felony cases, but not in traffic cases. Get fined after July 1 and you’re probably stuck.
One might suppose that law enforcement agencies lobbied for these changes, but in fact two local agency heads said they thought the increases are excessive, unfair and problematic.
La Salle County sheriff Tom Templeton said he foresees motorists facing suspension, monetary penalties and even jail for non-payment. Cops want to keep the roads safe, but have no stomach for over-penalizing or jailing people for moving violations.
“People are not going to be able to pay these fines,” Templeton said, “and then what are we going to do?”
Peru police chief Doug Bernabei said the increased fees would, if anything, motivate sympathetic police to issue warnings instead of hefty tickets.
“Frankly, I am concerned that fines for relatively minor violations are getting too expensive and the street cops will be inclined to give more warnings,” Bernabei said. “I think we may actually see less enforcement. I would have a hard time taking $200-plus out of a working person’s wallet for some things — I just don’t know if I could do it.”
That, in turn, could set off a revenue problem for the counties, as traffic violations already are in free-fall. Last year, La Salle County recorded about 9,700 tickets, which is down a whopping 65 percent from 2003 and the lowest volume since records were computerized 34 years ago.
Police and prosecutors all toasted the record low; but traffic tickets pay for needed services such as court security, and free passes at the roadside will strain the already-shrinking revenue stream.