With higher car-tab fees, will more drivers be stopped for expired vehicle tabs?

The Seattle Times had an article today about whether the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) increased vehicle registration fees in the greater Puget Sound region would cause drivers to skip renewing their vehicle registration when due and instead continue to drive on expired tabs. The article points out that while illegal, financially, this could make sense. While the article correctly points out that driving on expired tabs is an infraction, punishable by a fine (and not jail) another thing to consider is that driving with expired tabs would give police the power to pull you over anytime. Police can lawfully stop a vehicle when there is reasonable suspicion that the vehicle is committing an infraction. This legal stop can then turn into a criminal investigation say, for instance, the officer observes an odor of alcohol or marijuana coming from the vehicle.

Where does the fine amount on an infraction come from?

When a person receives an infraction, such as a speeding ticket, there is a fine amount listed on the face of this infraction. This fine is the maximum fine that can be assessed against the person for that particular infraction. Infractions can only be punished with a fine, not jail (like a criminal offense). So the maximum fine amount is the worst case scenario for an infraction.

For some infractions, the maximum fine amount is listed in the statute. For instance, RCW 46.61.525 outlines the elements of the infraction of Negligent Driving in the Second Degree, and it also states that a violation “is subject to a penalty of two hundred fifty dollars.” However, anyone who has ever received an infraction for Negligent Driving Second Degree knows that the maximum fine amount on the infraction was not listed as $250 but instead, $550. So why does the fine of $250 mandated by the statute increase up to $550?

RCW 3.62.090(1) and (2) both require additional fines on top of the base fine. Specifically, RCW 3.62.090(1), requires a public safety and education assessment of 70% of the fine amount. RCW 3.62.090(2) requires an additional public safety and education assessment, this one is 50% of whatever the public safety and education assessment is in subsection (1). And finally, RCW 46.63.110(7) and (8) add an additional $37. These extra fees do not apply to parking infractions and some only apply to vehicle related infractions.

So for Negligent Driving in the Second Degree, you take the $250 base fine, add 175 (.70 x 250), add 87.5 (.5 x 175), and add 37 = 549.50. The government apparently rounds this figure up to $550.

Again, keep in mind the $550 fine is the worst possible thing that could happen. If you hire a competent infraction attorney, the fine will likely be dramatically reduced (or dismissed entirely) and the infraction could be amended to one that does not affect your insurance rates.

If you’re curios, IRLJ 6.2 lists all in the infraction base fine amounts. If an infraction does not have a specific amount listed, IRLJ 6.2 says the default base fine is $42.