Eric Peters: Not so Merry Men

By Eric Peters

Robin Hood may have been a fictional character, but the thing that drove him and his “Merry Men” to become outlaws was real enough:

Oppressive laws.

Specifically, oppressive taxes.

At every turn, the Sheriff of Nottingham and his not-so-merry men would demand their pound of flesh. The only way Robin and his men could survive was to forget the law – and live outside the law.

It was an act of desperation and necessity.

This is happening again – to millions of American drivers.

None of them merry.

It starts with a ticket for a traffic offense – a pratfall that is becoming hard to avoid because of the profusion of offenses, most of them purely statutory (i.e., involving no harm to anyone) but subjecting the victim (i.e., the person waylaid by the armed government worker) to an extortionate tax. Calling it a “fine” doesn’t legitimate the taking-by-force of someone’s money who has not damaged anyone, for the benefit of the government – which is precisely what a tax is.

In California, the minimum fine/tax for failing to “buckle-up” (“failure to eat your veggies” is next) is $162 – and the fine for “improperly restraining a child under 16 is $465.

In Virginia, the fine for failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign – even if there is no reason to come to a complete stop – is $200.

In the District of Columbia, the fine/tax for warming up your car longer than three minutes – yes, really – is $1,000 for a first offense.

And “reckless” driving – defined by statute in Virginia as anything faster than 80 MPH, even on a highway with a speed limit of 70 MPH – can entail $2,500 of literal highway robbery.

These are just a few of the many. And there are usually “processing fees” or “court costs” – secondary taxes laid on in addition to the primary tax. It gets into money.

The problem is that while the resources of the government are infinite, those of its victims are not. Many people simply can’t stand and deliver (this phrase was used by highwaymen in Europe back in the 1600s; it meant hand over your money; maybe it ought to be brought back into currency).

The much-plucked victims haven’t got many feathers left to pluck. They are already broke – or close to the edge of it.

Whatever they manage to earn is eaten up by other taxes -including the new Health Insurance tax – as well as the taxes on their food, gas and pretty much everything else. What remains is ravaged by the ongoing devaluation of currency (by issuing more of it) called “inflation,” which is really just another form of taxation.

Result? Millions of drivers no longer have hundreds or thousands of dollars available to just throw away on yet another tax – which is how they rightly regard this business. They have rent to pay, food to buy. If the choice is between paying the highwayman (plus “costs”) vs. making sure the kids will have a roof over their heads next month and food on their plates . . .well, the choice isn’t exactly easy.

But it is obvious.

They choose not to “stand and deliver.”

And it is millions of them. At least 4.2 million of them, according to a Sept. 27 article in The Washington Post, which quotes a study done by an outfit called the Legal Aid Justice Center.

That’s a bunch of unmerry men (and women, too).

These 4.2 million have become outlaws as a result of not having ponied up. Which triggers escalation by the “sheriff” – who revokes their “privilege” to drive. Very much in the way Robin and his men were forbidden to hunt the King’s deer in Sherwood Forest.

The situation goes from bad to worse. They lose their driving “privileges,” which exposes them to even more highway robbery if they happen to encounter one (or several) of the “sheriff’s” men. Which is not unlikely, given the gantlet of “safety” checkpoints and automated license plate readers (APLRs).

These people face what amounts to Robin Hood’s choice: If they don’t pay, they can’t (legally) drive. But they can’t afford to pay, especially if they don’t drive. On account of they need to drive in order to get to work . . .  in order to get paid.

So they do drive – illegally.

Around and around we go.

It is not unlike forcing people to buy health insurance they can’t afford – and then wondering how come people don’t go to the doctor . . . when their co-pay is $500 and they haven’t got it because they had to pay for the “coverage” . . .

The well-paid bureaucrats and even better-paid politicians who impose these laws – and the fines/taxes that accompany – are so financially distant from the concerns of people who have to work for a living that they do not appreciate what it means to an average working person to be faced with the Hobson’s Choice of paying a fine they can’t afford or operating as an outlaw.

That 4.2 million figure is not a nationwide figure, either. The study only looked at fivestates: Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Michigan.

Given that every other state in the country uses similar tactics to mulct motorists – in some cases, it’s done assembly-line style, using automated speed cameras, the payin’ paper sent out via the mail without even the formality of pulling the driver over – the figure must be at least three or four times 4.2 million.

Probably a low estimate at that.

To what end?

A very large (and growing) portion of the population is being turned into outlaws. But like the Robin of myth, these people aren’t criminals.

It’s a distinction worth considering.



Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at



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