Marketplace Morning Report

California considers reducing traffic fines for low-income drivers

June 19, 2017

By Larry Buhl

The California Legislature is considering a proposal to link the cost of a traffic ticket to a person’s ability to pay. Supporters say if it becomes law, it will keep minor traffic violations from pushing low-income California drivers deep into debt. And, it could help the state recoup tens of millions of dollars in delinquent fines that people just can’t afford to pay.

California has some of the country’s harshest penalties for minor traffic violations. Thanks to a host of automatic surcharges, a $100 ticket actually starts out at $490. Then late fees can pile on. Failure to pay on time raises the price to $800, and then $1,100, and so on.

Paul Tepper, executive director for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, said that a ticket for, say, not signaling, can start a person on a downward spiral.

“If you can’t pay the ticket, courts commonly suspend your license,” Tepper said. “Without a license, people can’t go to work and frequently lose their jobs. If they’re not working, they can’t pay their ticket.”

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