California courts will give drivers with unpaid traffic tickets a financial break under a limited state amnesty program launched this week.
Motorists with outstanding tickets originally due on or before Jan. 1, 2013 will be allowed to pay them off at a reduced amount, either 50 percent or 80 percent of the citation amount, depending on the driver’s income, state officials said.
All assessed penalties will be waived, and payments can be made in installments.
And on Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Billl 405 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, to guarantee motorists can fight their tickets in court before being required to pay their fines.
The program, authorized by Senate Bill 85 and promoted by the Brown administration, goes into effect Thursday. It contains provisions that will allow license reinstatement for drivers who lost their license because they failed to pay the fine or appear in court.
The Department of Motor Vehicles had received 4.73 million California license suspension actions from courts after motorists failed to pay or appear in court, according to data in April of this year. In that time, just under 82,000 were reinstated. In total, there are 25 million legally licensed drivers in the state.
The amnesty program, which lasts until March 2017, covers tickets for most moving violations, such as speeding, red light violations, and failure to stop at a stop sign. It also covers some non-traffic infractions such as loitering, trespassing and littering.
Parking tickets, local ordinance violations, and some major vehicle code violations, such as driving under the influence and reckless driving, however, are not eligible.
California has come under criticism in recent years for its stiff traffic fines, which include add-on fees and assessments that triple and quadruple the base fines for infractions. Civil rights groups and advocates for the poor argue the violations disproportionately affect the poor and minorities, and that the inability to pay a ticket can put lower-income drivers at risk of losing their jobs if they lose their licenses.
Mike Herald, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty, applauded the program, saying it is a solid step toward resolving a problem that many didn’t realize existed until recently.
“We think it is going to have a significant impact for folks who have been pushed to the curb,” he said. “They can get out from under this cloud, get their driver’s license back immediately. They’ll be able to buy auto insurance again. Employers will hire people who don’t have a suspended license.”
Motorists interested in applying should contact the Superior Court in the jurisdiction where they received their ticket. Courts are allowed to charge motorists a $50 amnesty program fee.
The Department of Motor Vehicles will charge a $55 fee for drivers seeking to have their license reinstated.
For court information, go to: www.courts.ca.gov/find-my-court.htm
A previous state amnesty program in 2012 netted $12.3 million over its six months. Court officials and civil rights advocates say the new program has elements that should get more results. They said they do not have any guesses, however, on how many drivers will take advantage of the new program.