While the actual base fines for a traffic ticket in California have not gone up much in the last 20 years, the amount of fees and additional penalties added by county and local governments are starting to add up. What may have started out as a $35 ticket can end up costing a driver more than $200.
Where Are the Fees Coming From?
It can be hard to imagine having to pay six times more than the original fine for a simple offense like an improper stop at a stop sign or speeding a few miles over the speed limit. Where do all these extra fees come from? For starters, the State of California automatically imposes a 20% surcharge on all traffic tickets.
Now your $35 traffic ticket is $42. Add to that a series of penalties added to pay for various agencies and programs. There are added state and county assessments, along with fees to cover funding for emergency medical services, the DNA Identification Fund, and for Court Facilities. These all add up to about another $116; most are based on a certain dollar amount for every $10 of the original base fine. For example, the assessment for Court Facilities is $5 for every $10 of the base fine, or $20 on your $35 ticket–which now totals $158.
The additions are not yet complete. Depending on which county you receive the ticket, there can be added fees for Night Court, Court Operations, and a variety of local assessments to fund construction and improvement projects. When you put it all together, you are now well over $200.
Fines or Fundraising?
Many frustrated drivers in California are wondering whether the piling on of all these fees is there to motivate drivers to operate their vehicles more safely or if much of it exists just to raise money. When lawmakers are looking for ways to fund a program, it can be easy to turn to traffic violations as people can avoid having to make the payment by avoiding the behavior in the first place.
On the other hand, everybody makes mistakes and hefty fines are not always appropriate. While most people will not argue that drunk driving is a dangerous offence and the consequences should be serious, driving a few miles an hour over the speed limit is something that most of us have done once or twice.
Expensive for Everyone
In addition to soaring fines for drivers, the way that tickets are calculated in California make it difficult for police officers, court personnel, judges, and even citizens to figure out how much a ticket will cost. Plus, the additional assessments seem to be constantly changing, so officials must have access to the latest information to accurately assess new offenders while keeping a record of all the past changes for working on older cases.
Then, once these fines are collected, they must be separated and redistributed to the various state, county, and local agencies that are all waiting for their piece of the pie. Currently, a task force has been assigned to find ways to simplify and improve the way that court-ordered fines and fees are assessed, collected, and redistributed. In the meantime, however, California drivers should be cautious.
Avoiding Costly Penalties
If you have received a moving traffic violation, there are traffic schools and defensive driving courses that are available to you. In addition to the possibility of a reduced fine, participating in these classes can also earn you a discount on your car insurance. In some cases, the local court may offer driving classes instead of a fine, and once you complete the course, your citation will be dismissed and points will not be added to your driving record. Even if you have not received a traffic ticket, voluntary enrollment in a traffic school can earn you a safe driver discount from your insurance company.