So I get home the other night to find two ominous envelopes from the State of Michigan waiting for me in the mail. One was from the Department of State, and I immediately recognized it as being from the Secretary of State, Michigan's equivalent of a Motor Vehicle Bureau. And I immediately knew what the envelope contained: a tsk, tsk letter from the Office of Traffic Safety bitching that I have too many points on my license.
That would be nine points, to be exact, after my latest citation for going 91 mph in a 70-mph zone in Georgia, where I was running late for the airport in a brand-new, 2009 Infiniti FX50 after participating in the magazine's comparison test of the FX and the new BMW X6 (appearing in our July issue, which is on newsstands now). Aside from my tardiness, I blame the Infiniti FX50 for my ticket: after all, it drives just like a sport sedan, not a crossover, and its 390-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 just naturally wants to sail along at 91 mph. If not 101 mph or 111 mph, for that matter.
Anyway, that Georgia citation added a nasty, painful four points to my license here in Michigan, bringing me within three points of the dreaded 12-point level. You don't want to reach 12 points on your Michigan driver's license. Trust me, I know: I did exactly that back in 1993, and had my driver's license restricted for three months, when I could not drive between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. And then I did it AGAIN in 1997, when the State of Michigan didn't simply slap my hand; instead, its representative punched a big hole in my license and I spent two full months with no driving privileges at all. How does one fulfill one's duties as an editor at a car magazine without driving for two months, you're wondering? I did a lot of editing during that period, and not one bit of driving. Yes, it was painful, and to make matters worse, it was in the dead of winter, mid-December to mid-February, which meant that I couldn't even get around on my bicycle, and which meant that my holiday merrymaking was somewhat curtailed. I relied on the kindness of family, friends, and coworkers for rides. At the end of the Dark Period, I hosted a big dinner for everyone who had helped me out, and we all toasted my regained freedom.
Dinners are fun and all, but I have no desire to relive the license-suspension experience again. My letter from the Office of Traffic and Safety says that "You will be called in for a driver assessment reexamination when you reach 12 points. At 12 points, a review of your record will probably result in LOSS OF YOUR LICENSE [my emphasis]." Eeeeeek.
I won't have any breathing room until October 26th, when a speeding ticket I received in Ohio in October 2006 (unfairly, I might add, and for a measly 65 mph in a 55 zone) drops off my record, bringing me down to a slightly more comfortable seven-point total. But I'm gonna have to be super-careful for thirteen more months, because a conviction from July 2007, for 70 in a 55, won't fall off, taking its three points with it, until July 2009. Woe is definitely me.
Lest you think I am a habitual speeder, I would like to point out that I went from August 2001 until October 2006 with NO speeding tickets. Five and a half years, folks! Those were such happy times, and not so long ago, how I wonder....
Where were we? Oh, yes, I now must tell you about the OTHER letter that was waiting for me on the kitchen counter. It, dear readers, was from the State of Michigan Department of Treasury. My heart skipped a beat. Was I to be audited? Could I possibly receive an audit notice from the State of Michigan on the very same day that the State of Michigan basically told me that I am THIS close to having my license revoked?
No, the gods are not quite that cruel. But the State of Michigan is cruel enough. The letter, with the cheeky salutation of "Attention Driver!", was headlined NOTICE OF DRIVER RESPONSIBILITY FEE. Here's some of what this cheery missive had to say:
"Effective October 1, 2003, the Driver Responsibility Law (MCL 257.732a) imposes a Driver Responsibility Fee upon individuals who accumulate seven or more qualifying points on their driving record (Category 1) or are convicted of specific qualifying offenses (Category 2). Information from the Department of State via the courts reflects the following has been posted to your driving record:
Offense: 0009 ACCUMULATED POINTS FOR QUALIFYING OFFENSES Assessed Fee and Category: $200.00 CATEGORY 1
Collection of the assessed fee has been referred to the Michigan Department of Treasury. Payment of the assessed fee is due within 30 days from the date of this letter....any default of payment arrangements will result in the suspension of your driving privileges until the fee is paid in full..."
And on it went. Talk about a double-whammy. Let's see, the three speeding tickets that resulted in my nine points must have cost me at least $400, so with the State fee, I'm out about $600. Ouch, ouch, double-ouch. I don't know what other states impose this ridiculous fee, which is nothing more than another tax, but it sure is annoying.
Maybe I should send a bill to Infiniti. And Volkswagen (GTI, July 2007 ticket). And Mercedes-Benz (E55 AMG, October 2006 ticket).
These tickets HAVE forced me to slow down. I now just accept that I'm not going anyplace in a hurry, and I routinely set my cruise control at 76 mph. The truth is, you get there almost as quickly at that speed, anyway, as you do when you're racing along at 90 mph. The sad part, though, is that on those increasingly rare occasions when I'm in a really hot, fast car and encounter an empty ribbon of asphalt, I won't be able to drop the hammer and have some fun, for fear that a blacked-out Dodge Charger will be lurking behind a bush. And for that, ultimately, I guess I have no one to blame but myself. Darn it.