Sen. Bob Hertzberg: Unpaid fines and suspended licenses linked to poverty trap

SB 405 would cut license suspensions, aid economic security for working poor

April 8, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Citing the loss of the ability to drive as a threat to economic security – especially among the working poor – Sen. Bob Hertzberg today announced a plan to reduce the number of motorists who have their driver’s licenses suspended for violations that don’t affect public safety.

“So many local jurisdictions pile on fees for minor traffic violations to make up for lost revenue during the recent economic recession,” Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said about the need for Senate Bill 405. “This trend makes it even more difficult to find and keep a job. What’s happened is a situation where minor traffic tickets can push a family deep into debt.”

For example, Hertzberg cited how one state resident was issued a $25 ticket for failing to notify the DMV of an address change. Because of an almost comical series of errors, address changes and delays, that ticket mushroomed to $2,900

Today’s statement comes on the heels of a report that shows that traffic-court fines that include escalating fees and penalties have resulted in driver's license suspensions for 4.2 million Californians — or one in six drivers — pushing many low-income people deeper into poverty.

Hertzberg’s SB 405 would help those with a current suspension for nonviolent offenses such as broken taillights or expired tags to get their driving privileges restored. The change would complement the governor’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program, which aims to resolve nearly $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt.

Hertzberg said suspended licenses can trap the working poor in an impossible situation: unable to reinstate their license without gainful employment and unable to access employment without a license.

“This is a Catch 22 that traps people in a cycle of poverty,” Hertzberg said, pointing to a recent New Jersey study that found that when a license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job. Even accounting for those that kept their job, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.

In California, the number of licenses suspended during an 8-year period from 2006 to 2013 exceeded 4.2 million. In that same timespan, only 71,000 driver licenses were reinstated.

Under existing law, it is virtually impossible for the driver’s license to be restored until all the unpaid fees, fines and assessments are completely paid. This jeopardizes economic stability in the state, limits the available workforce, and forces employers to bear the cost of replacing workers and finding qualified replacement workers with valid licenses.

In addition to trapping many Californians in a cycle of poverty, the sheer number of suspended licenses poses a threat to public safety. Evidence suggests that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take the suspensions less seriously. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended just keep driving – often without insurance.

If passed, SB 405 would restore driver’s licenses suspended as a result of nonviolent offenses, upon agreement that court-ordered debt be collected via the governor’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program.

“This common-sense measure not only creates economic stability for thousands of Californians but also improves public safety by reducing the number of insurance-less drivers on the road,” said Michael Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which collaborated on the study.  

Herald’s group is sponsor of  SB 405, which is also cosponsored by: A New Way of Life Reentry Project; the East Bay Community Law Center; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

SB 405 will be set for its first policy hearing later this spring.

For more, including a Fact Sheet on SB 405, or a Spanish version of this release and the Fact Sheet, click HERE or visit Hertzberg’s Web site at the address below.

Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map HERE or at  After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg built an international renewable energy business; invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through two civic groups: California Forward and the Think Long Committee of California. More HERE or at


Communications Director
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Senate District 18
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, Calif. 95814
(916) 651-4018 office; 916 834-1128 cell or