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NYS DMV to double certain fees in July 2009.

Right on the heels of my prior post about a potential for increased tickets and surcharges during these difficult economic times (Hard Times?  Expect more traffic tickets NY), we’ve learned that NY has authorized the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to increase their suspension termination fees (stf) by 100%.  This means the license termination fee, the license reinstatement fee, and the scofflaw termination fee will all be double what they currently are in about a month.

While we are not a fan of any of the increases, it’s the scofflaw termination fee–the fee required to end a suspension resulting from a failure to answer a ticket or pay a fine–that directly concerns us as NY traffic lawyers the most.  First, this is the fee most directly related to traditional traffic tickets.  Second, the scofflaw termination fee is by far the most prevalent of the three types of suspension fees.  Look at these numbers:  The DMV collects approximately $3 million annually in license suspension termination fees, $830,000 annually in license reinstatement fees and $14 million in scofflaw suspension termination fees. There are an average of 121,000 individuals a year that pay the license suspension termination fee, 16,600 a year that pay the license reinstatement fee, and another 400,000 that pay the scofflaw suspension termination fee. The fee was $35 and will now be $70.

I have always contended that this fee was applied questionably.  In fact, I have had discussions with other attorneys about the potential for a class action suit against the NYS DMV based on how this fee is applied under certain circumstances.  Most often, we see a scenario like the one below at the NYS Traffic Violation Bureau (TVB) which handles NYC speeding tickets and other traffic tickets (the TVB handles moving violations in parts of Suffolk County and Rochester, NY as well).  Consider this situation:

A driver is issued a speeding ticket in Queens for driving 52 mph in a 30 mph zone and another ticket for an unsafe lane change at the same exact time.  The driver loses the summonses or somehow forgets about them and the driver ends up moving sometime soon after.  As soon as he moves, he changes his address with the DMV.  The Traffic Violation Bureau, recognizing that the driver hasn’t taken care of his ticket, will send a reminder letter.  However, this letter will be sent to the address that was written on the traffic ticket (his old address) and not his new address despite the fact that he made a point of changing his address with DMV.  Why?–because TVB, even though it’s part of the DMV, must be notified separately of any address change.  Eventually, this driver will be suspended for each ticket for failure to answer.  These will be considered suspensions one and two.  Next, as more time goes by, the TVB will find the driver guilty of both by default for never answering the tickets.  A fine will be due immediately and, the instant it is assigned to each ticket it is considered late.  Thus, two more suspensions for failure to pay the fine on time for each ticket.

One car stop, four scofflaw termination fees.  $140 today; $280 as of July 6.

Of course, a driver in this situation is not without fault.  He did receive traffic tickets and did fail to properly handle them.  However, his failure to handle them–things happen in people’s lives–has turned these seemingly routine traffic tickets into:

-Approximately $400 in fines and surcharges (these tend to be higher on defaulted cases)

-Nine points on his driver license.

-Likely significant insurance increases.

-Exactly $525 in driver assessment fees for the accumulation of eight points (read more about that here).

-Exactly $280 in scofflaw termination fees.

When we consider a situation like this, was the fee increase really necessary?  Do our lawmakers even consider all the other penalties a driver who is subject to suspension termination fees is already facing?

I can’t help but picture people sitting around a table in Albany trying to decide how they can squeeze absolutely every single penny out of each motorist.  They are not even pretending these additional fees are about safety or about deterring motorists from certain behavior on the road or about encouraging motorist to handle tickets in a timely fashion.  The Statement in support of this bill to increase the fees states quite simply “The State is facing a significant budget deficit”.  This is why fees have been doubled.

I concluded my last post by arguing that drivers “should not be viewed as a bottomless pool of revenue”.  While the drivers subject to suspension termination fees may have contributed to their predicament with their own acts or omissions, it is pretty clear that drivers in general are often looked at as a source of revenue when other sources are difficult to find.

Submitted by Scott Feifer, traffic ticket attorney NY