California giving needed relief on traffic fines, fees

Financially strapped motorists are catching a break through the state’s traffic citation amnesty law, which began in October and gives discounts of up to 80 percent on unpaid traffic tickets due before Jan. 1, 2013.

In Los Angeles Superior Court, $2.8 million in fines had been collected and more than 28,000 driver’s licenses restored by the middle of December, according to a new KPCC report. The law passed in September after advocates for the downtrodden urged the Legislature to lessen the effect of some of the nation’s heaviest traffic violation fines.

Three measures, passed last session, provide relief to motorists in trouble:

  • Senate Bill 85 requires counties to implement an amnesty program. Amnesty runs through March 31, 2017.
  • Assembly Bill 1151 provides a way for drivers facing parking ticket fines to pay by installments.
  • Senate Bill 405 allows drivers to contest fines before paying the fine by a set deadline and gives those in arrears more time to make good. The previous law made it difficult for drivers to contest tickets and added penalties for prolonged pay periods. Traffic tickets for $35 violations were turning into $200-plus fines once a state fee, a court cost fee and a county assessment were tacked on.

Now, though, the state and municipalities will have to deal with a loss of revenue.

Following the Money

The money ends up funding any number of government projects and enterprises, depending on the location, the issuing agency and the type of violation.

Traffic Fine Fees - source Los Angeles Superior Court (1)

Source: Los Angeles Superior Court

The state attaches 20 percent onto any traffic ticket, of which 70 percent is distributed to a number of operations. Leading that is a restitution fund (32 percent) followed by driver training assessment (25 percent) — which pays for driver training in schools — and police training (24 percent). Eight percent also goes to the corrections training fund, which exists “for the development of appropriate standards, training and program evaluation.”

“California is unique in that traffic fees go to so many different funds as a revenue source,” said John Bowman, vice president of the National Motorists Association. “You just don’t see it to that degree in other states.”

Diverting portions of the revenue to things like officer training, he said, makes no sense.

“It seems logical that the proceeds of the fine should be tied to the nature of that fine.”

In some cases, cities and counties battle for the revenue. The city of San Jose in 2011 complained in a report that the $4 million it had been receiving for 50,000 violations has been tapped by outside government sources.

“Most revenue from traffic citations benefits the state of California and the county, not the city,” the report stated.

Legislative analysts found that amnesty would have no effect on local or state coffers.

But that seems unlikely, unless SB405 was simply a feel-good measure to make motorists feel like their representatives were offering them some relief.

“This sounds like a gesture,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “If a person feels they have a good chance to win in court, why wouldn’t they in the first place?”

But language in SB85 does give more money to state funds supported by traffic fines and fees:

The bill would, following the transfer to the Judicial Council of the first $250,000 received, increase the percentage of specified penalties to be deposited in the Peace Officers’ Training Fund and the Corrections Training Fund, which are continuously appropriated funds.

Speed Traps (1)

Source: National Motorists Association

California, with 13 million registered vehicles on the road, ranks second to Texas in the number of speed traps over the last five years, according to a recent study by the National Motorists Association.

The state also ranks in the top 10 based on speed traps per 1,000 of lane miles.

The crowd-sourced website has tracked trouble areas and warned drivers since 1999.  Los Angeles tops the list of speed traps in the state with 57, with San Diego second with 48.  San Jose, Riverside and Fresno round out the top five.

For more information about how to qualify for the program, organized by county, see

Steve Miller can be reached at 517-775-9952 and [email protected] His website is


Write a comment
  1. Bruce
    Bruce 12 January, 2016, 06:09

    “Taxation by Citation”.

    Reply this comment
  2. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 12 January, 2016, 07:34

    What is not mentioned (and is seldom understood by Californians) is that our traffic tickets (including “fees”) are FAR higher than other states — about triple, I’d estimate.

    Perhaps the worst example is our red light camera tickets (now banned in many cities). A CA red-light camera ticket is $490. The next highest state is $250. Most are around $100.

    Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 12 January, 2016, 08:39

      Red light camera tickets are on their way out, everywhere….how those ,multi MILLION$$$ “retire at age 50” pensions are going to keep rolling is anyone’s guess, especially since CalTURDS is not down to a 73% funded level at the end of the BIGGEST bull market in US History!

      Maybe Teddy Steals can advise CalTURDS on better ways to scam….

      Reply this comment
  3. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 12 January, 2016, 08:42

    “Perhaps the worst example is our red light camera tickets (now banned in many cities). A CA red-light camera ticket is $490. The next highest state is $250. Most are around $100.”
    Red light cameras have ben proven to cause MORE problems than they cure, such as massive increases in rear end accidents where these cameras are located.

    There is also the constitutionality of it- yes, state judges have signed off on them, but state judges are politicians FIRST and foremost, they could care less about anyone but their constituents, which are the people who pay them off$$…

    Reply this comment
  4. Queeg
    Queeg 13 January, 2016, 04:00

    Have been traveling central and northern Spain Comrades. Not much trickle down going on…..their prolonged recession and move to the city movement taking toll on rural real estate, retailing and basic sustenance… We almost got parking ticket near Catheral in Astorga….daughter was mortified and started a tear…,the local copmelted and was a gentleman and helped find a pay for parking meter thingeeee. Gracias Amigo!

    Reply this comment
  5. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 16 January, 2016, 21:30

    Start fining those cyclists idiots who flont the law just becuase they ride a bicycle and think traffic laws don’t effect them

    Reply this comment

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