Traffic Ticket Amnesty Comes to California

As of Oct. 1, those pesky traffic tickets from 2013 you still haven’t paid off are going to make a much smaller dent in your finances — assuming you haven’t made a payment since Sept. 30.

On June 24, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill granting amnesty of up to 80 percent debt forgiveness to California drivers with unpaid traffic tickets and nontraffic infraction tickets, as a way to get drivers to pay up what they can and get back on the road. As of Oct. 1, the amnesty program is in full swing, but only for drivers who have not made a payment on an overdue ticket since Sept. 30, 2015. 

Tickets issued on or before January 1, 2013 are eligible for the amnesty program, according to the California Courts website.

“Persons with unpaid tickets whose fines were originally due to be paid date on or before January 1, 2013, who have not made a payment after September 30, 2015, may be eligible to have both their debt reduced by 50 or 80 percent depending on income and their driver’s license reinstated, unless an exclusion … applies,” the site read.

While this program seems like a windfall for drivers whose unpaid tickets are a nagging inconvenience, the program is designed to break the “hellhole of desperation” for the poor that is the California traffic ticket justice system, according to statements Brown made when introducing the bill in the Spring.

Because unpaid tickets can mean suspended licenses, the program also helps drivers get licenses reinstated, whether or not they are eligible for the amnesty program. This portion of the program comes from legislation introduced by State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat from Van Nuys, Calif. 

According to information provided by Hertzberg’s office, a ticket for failing to make a full halt at a stop sign starts at $35, but then rounds up to $238 after the extra fees, called “civil assessment” fees. These fees can top $300.

“Then, if you can’t pay or miss your court date, the fine doubles,” Hertzberg said in a statement. “Imagine average parents making $12 to $20 per hour and suddenly faced with either feeding their kids or paying these out-of-control fines. What would you do?”

Having an active driver’s license makes employment more readily available, meaning those whose licenses were suspended may now have a better chance of joining the workforce. 

Even here in Malibu, the 10 DUI checkpoints held by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department so far in 2015 have turned up 44 drivers operating vehicles with suspended licenses (on top of 71 unlicensed drivers operating vehicles). Those drivers were all arrested and sent to jail.

Hertzberg’s office also cited data reinforcing the “hellhole of desperation,” described by Brown.

“Bolstering Hertzberg’s proposal is a recent study that found when a driver’s license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job,” the statement read. “Even accounting for those that kept working, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.”

According to the California Courts website, there is an even more dire consequence of not paying a traffic ticket: incarceration.

“The court can charge you with ‘failure to pay a fine’ or ‘contempt of court.’ If that happens, you will be charged with a misdemeanor and the court can issue a warrant for your arrest,” the site read.

The ticket amnesty program is set to run through March 2017.

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