SVCF public policy update: Bill addresses the issue of 'paying more for being poor' in California’s traffic courts

Californians pay some of the highest traffic fines and fees in the country. But inequities in the state’s traffic court system mean that low-income Californians are much more likely to lose their driver’s licenses and suffer other serious penalties because of, say, a jaywalking ticket or other simple infraction.

Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California's Traffic Court System

Report: Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California's Traffic Court System

Residents of the Golden State pay more than three times the national average for traffic infractions, according to Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California’s Traffic Court System. SVCF commissioned the report, which was released in May by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR),

More alarming, in California an individual’s ability to pay is not factored into calculations used to establish fees and fines – and failure to pay them often leads to driver’s license suspension.

That is why SVCF is supporting state Senate Bill 185, authored by Senator Robert Hertzberg of the San Fernando Valley. The bill aims to ensure that ability to pay is used in determining court-imposed traffic fines, fees or other associated financial penalties. The bill prohibits the court from issuing a driver’s license “hold” for a failure to pay or failure to appear.

Why is this so important? One reason is that a large majority of Californians (78 percent) need a driver’s license to work or to get to work. Thus, when we take people’s driver’s licenses away, it often means they will have real trouble supporting themselves and their families. 

In addition, when low-income individuals are saddled with debt associated with traffic fees and penalties, they are often pushed further into poverty – and potentially into incarceration. High fines and fees create hardships for many middle-class Californians, but they can devastate the lives of low-income Californians when they can’t afford to pay.

SB 185 would require a court to determine a defendant’s ability to pay and make specified accommodations if it determines the defendant to be indigent. It would require the court to issue specified notices to a defendant regarding requirements to appear in court or pay a fine; and make provisions for cases where a defendant willfully fails to appear or pay.

Please join SVCF in supporting this improvement to the current system of traffic fines and fees in California.

In addition to reading the bill, please sign up on this page to tell California lawmakers about your support for SB 185. SVCF will be sending the names of supporters to legislators weekly.

Thank you for your participation. 

Show your support, sign up today