WOODLAND DAILY DEMOCRAT: Traffic Amnesty Program offers hope to Yolo drivers

Staff story

October 9, 2015

Long seen as a rite of passage for teenagers, a driver’s license represents far more than that to most Californians.

“A valid driver’s license is a vital link to employment, independence and long-term individual and family stability,” according to Yolo County Public Information Spokeswoman Beth Gabor. “For those with unpaid traffic and non-traffic infraction tickets, however, insurmountable court fines have led to the loss of the privilege to drive, leaving little realistic hope of ever climbing out of the abyss.”

However, as of Oct. 1, a statewide traffic amnesty program got under way which can assist motorist in Yolo County.

California instituted the amnesty program for residents who can’t afford to pay off spiraling traffic fines and court fees that have led to millions of driver’s licenses being suspended.

“Every day I see Yolo County residents struggle to overcome barriers like lack of transportation and the often related barrier of unemployment,” said Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson. “It’s not that as drivers they pose a public safety risk, it’s just that they can’t afford to pay off their court ordered debt. I hope everyone who is eligible will take advantage of this opportunity.”

The program pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown and adopted as part of his annual budget runs through March 31, 2017. Ahead of the program, the governor also signed a bill by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, that allows people to schedule a court appearance even if they haven’t paid fines and traffic penalties.

Under the amnesty plan, drivers with lesser infractions would pay either 50 percent or 80 percent of what they owe, depending on income. Certain drivers would also be able to apply for installment payments for outstanding tickets. Drunken-driving and reckless-driving violations are not eligible.

Civil assessment fees would be waived for some tickets. Residents who have had their licenses revoked would be able to apply to have them reinstated.

Only violations due to be paid before Jan. 1, 2013, are eligible for discounts.

Since 2006, the state has suspended 4.8 million driver’s licenses after motorists failed to pay or appear in court, the Department of Motor Vehicles said earlier this year. Of those, only about 83,000 licenses were reinstated.

When he announced the program in May, Brown called the traffic court system a “hellhole of desperation” for the poor.

Twenty years ago, the fine for running a red light was $103. Today, it costs as much as $490 as the state has established add-on fees to support everything from court construction to emergency medical air transportation. The cost can jump to over $800 once a person fails to pay or misses a traffic court appearance.

General eligibility requirements for the traffic amnesty program in Yolo County include: the initial due date for payment on the debt must have been on or before Jan.1, 2013; no payments have been made after Sept. 30, 2015; no restitution is owed to a victim on any case within Yolo County; and no non-traffic misdemeanor or felony warrants may be outstanding within Yolo County.

For those that do not qualify for debt reduction, a payment plan for outstanding debt may still be developed, resulting in the immediate release of a driver’s license hold, according to Gabor.

The program costs $50, excluding the Department of Motor Vehicles fee of $55 to reinstate a driver’s license.

Participation forms may be found on the Yolo County Superior Court website (www.yolo.courts.ca.gov/) and will be processed by the Court’s Traffic Division, 1000 Main St., Woodland.

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