Opinion: A smart call for fairer traffic fines

Is traffic ticket relief in store for Californians? Last month, prompted by a report that found millions of Californians were not paying tickets, even though not doing so brings even bigger fines and punishments, we took a deeper look at all the add-ons that jack up a ticket fine by about 400%.

What we found was that the average $100 ticket will cost you nearly $500, most of it going to pay for things that have nothing to do with driving. Over the years, lawmakers found ticket assessments a useful way to fund things such as traumatic brain injury services, aid for victims of violent crimes and training for police officers.

We concluded that it was “time to rein in California’s traffic ticket surcharges” and called on Gov. Jerry Brown to reassess the surcharges and to come up with a more affordable pricing structure.

Haven’t heard from the governor yet, though the budget he released this week includes ticket debt amnesty for the many Californians stuck in “a hellhole of desperation.” But on Tuesday, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and Sen. Loni Hancock, chair of the Public Safety Committee, sent joint letters to the Judicial Council and Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor asking them to assess the assessments and come back to the Legislature with a “more rational fee structure” that doesn’t excessively penalize people.

“A simple traffic fine should not economically devastate the many families living paycheck to paycheck, or cause a young college student to drop out of school,” they wrote. (The latter example, I believe, refers to Eduardo Lopez, a Glendale Community College student quoted in a Times article by Catherine Saillant dealing with pedestrians getting crosswalk citations. Steve Lopez followed up with a column profiling Eduardo, a financially struggling student.)


It’s appropriate that De Leon jump on this issue; he wrote the legislation that in 2011 created the Judicial Council’s Debt-Ordered Task Force with a goal of unraveling the tangled web of revenue streams that flow from the various traffic ticket surcharges. Four years later, it is still untangling. Hopefully, this task is an easier one.

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