By Gretchen Schuldt
Most of the provisions in a bill doubling fines for reckless driving will affect few people, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
There were just 124 total convictions statewide under three provisions of the reckless driving statute in 2021, according to a DOT memo.
And for a fourth, the most common offense, the Legislature does not set the penalty most people actually pay – that is done by the state Judicial Conference.
The Assembly vote approving the bill was 85-12. A chart showing individual representative's votes is at the bottom of this post.
In first-offense reckless driving cases, the most common kind, the Legislature sets the range of the financial penalties, but the Judicial Conference sets the default amount that appears on the ticket. That is the amount that people pay without going to court.
The bill doubles the minimum forfeiture for first-offense reckless driving from $25 - $200 to $50 - $400. While the amount on the ticket assumedly would increase from the Judicial Conference's $200 to $400 to remain on the high end of the scale as it is now, the actual amount "could remain unchanged," DOT said.
There were 1,624 first-time reckless-driving convictions statewide in 2021, according to the memo. If the $400 amount is adopted by the conference, revenue statewide would increase by an estimated $324,800.
Another section of the bill would double the forfeitures for reckless driving involving a railroad crossing, from $300 - $1,000 to $600 - $2,000. The amount generally listed on tickets is $300. There were just two convictions statewide in 2021, generating $600 in revenue. Doubling the forfeiture would generate an additional $600 statewide, DOT said.
The fines for reckless driving, second and subsequent offense, would increase from $50 - $500 to $100 -$1,000.
"However, due to second and subsequent offenses being criminal cases, the fines levied by the courts may vary widely," DOT wrote. The additional penalty of up to one year in jail is unchanged.
Their were 99 convictions statewide under that statute in 2021.
The bill also would double the fines for causing bodily harm through reckless driving, from $300 - $2,000 to $600 - $4,000. Again, those cases are criminal cases and fines could vary widely, DOT said. There were just 23 convictions for the crime in 2021.
The bill would also increase the maximum incarceration time from one year to two years in the county jail or house of correction.
Those who are convicted of causing great bodily harm while driving recklessly would face longer prison terms. Right now, the maximum penalty is 3½ years and a $10,000 fine; the bill increases that to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The DOT did not include conviction figures for that offense.
The bill also imposes a $435 driver improvement surcharge and a $50 safe ride surcharge for reckless driving convictions. Based on 2021 figures, the surcharges could increase total revenue for the two programs by about $850,000.
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