Traffic Ticket Amnesty

Fredrick Jefferson at the home in Corona where he is staying. Jefferson 46, is among millions of Californians who lost their driver’s licenses because of unpaid traffic fines. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Lee Romney
November 14, 2015

Heavy equipment mechanic Fredrick Jefferson said it was when a supervisor fired him that he learned his driver’s license had been revoked because of unpaid traffic fines.

Over the next year and a half, the “snowball effect” caused his relationship to crumble and he wound up homeless, scraping by on a $221 monthly general relief check.

With add-on penalties, his total fines swelled to $5,000.

Thanks to a sweeping traffic ticket amnesty that took effect Oct. 1, Jefferson now is on a payment plan of $1 per month — an amount that will increase once he lands a job. Last week, he got his license back.

There has been a huge response to an amnesty program that began Oct. 1, allowing some with steep traffic times to have them reduced by up to 80% and a broader set of people to apply for reinstatement of their driver’s licenses once they have established a ticket payment plan.

“Having my license is essential,” Jefferson said. “Now I can go out and work again.”

Across the country, escalating fees have been layered on to base traffic fines to help fund everything from court operations to local and state government programs.

California’s 18-month amnesty — which aims to put a dent in $10 billion in uncollected, court-ordered debt — initially was conceived as a way to revive two law enforcement training programs driven to insolvency by motorists’ inability to pay. But it has become part of a broader conversation over the funding approach, which has pushed low-income and minority motorists, who are more likely to be stopped by police, deeper into poverty.

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