California Traffic Ticket Amensty started on January 1st, 2012 and will run for a period of 6 months. It sounds great but since it’s a government program you can be sure there are a few catches involved. The general program is statewide and designed to help the state grab some cash quickly which is pretty much the whole idea behind traffic court to begin with. Under the program outstanding fines for failure to appear or failure to pay that have been past due and without payment since 2009 (aka dead money) are eligible for a 50% reduction if paid in full during the six month amnesty period. Individual counties are being given discretion in how to best implement the plan and the freedom to include or eliminate specific offenses. By State law, no DUI charges can be included.
Many online pieces are starting to pop up about the program. Here is one from the San Francisco Gate. Here’s another from California’s Gold Country. Here’s a video clip from ABC News in Fresno. CBS in San Diego also got involved with an article. The problem with these articles and videos and many more just like them, is that they present a traffic ticket issue as a purely financial problem. “How much does it cost me to pay off the ticket?” This is the common perception of traffic tickets. What will it cost me to pay the ticket? This approach causes many drivers to be penny wise and pound foolish because there is often so much more at stake than just the cost of paying off the ticket.
The real consequences and the “hidden costs” of a traffic ticket situation include several layers of analysis. The first hidden cost is the California DMV’s point system. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket that qualifies for amnesty come January 1, 2012 and you pay your ticket for half price, does the conviction trigger points that will hurt your driving record or increase your insurance costs? Should you go to traffic school? Can you go to traffic school? Would you better off fighting the ticket? The second hidden cost is the failure to appear or failure to pay charge. If you pay a “half price” ticket through amnesty, are you admitting guilt to the failure to appear? Will this trigger an increase in insurance rates? Will the failure to appear show up on your record as an infraction? Will it show up on your criminal record with the Department of Justice as a misdemeanor? These are critical questions and questions that most people never think to ask before it’s too late. They are thrilled to “pay less” on the ticket, but crushed when they get a letter of suspension from the DMV, a notice of premium increase from their insurance company, or loss of a job opportunity based on a dirty driving record or criminal history.
Let’s consider another hidden problem…..What if the ticket you pay at half off doesn’t clear your license? The motivating factor for most people to pay off old tickets is the drivers license. People want to get their license back in their pocket but many people with license holds and suspensions have multiple problems affecting their license. If the clerk tells you “half off fixes this” and you pay it, only to find out that the ticket you paid wasn’t even holding your license but 4 other tickets that don’t qualify for amnesty are holding your license, I bet you won’t feel like the State of California is cutting you a bargain at all.
If you are going to attempt to solve your suspended license and old traffic ticket problems on your own, my best advice is to avoid the collection agencies whenever possible. They simply can’t be trusted. I receive phone calls every day from people with old traffic tickets who tell me they were given misleading information by GC Services or any of the other collection agencies employed by the California Traffic Courts. The most common lies include, “it’s too late to see a judge on this case”, and “there is nothing you can do besides paying the amount in full”. Another one of my favorites is “if you don’t pay within 72 hours you will be flagged as non compliant and bad things will happen”. To avoid the scare tactics and misinformation from the collection agencies, it’s always best to deal directly with the traffic court clerk’s office. Or better yet, get your case in front of a judge whenever possible. For issues on the amnesty program don’t trust the collection agency or the media, learn the law. The best place to start is on the California Court’s own website.
So will ticket amnesty help you solve your problem? Unfortunately the answer is “it depends”. In many cases amnesty may do more harm than good but in other cases it may be a great opportunity to resolve old issues and save some money. For people with multiple tickets it could make sense to use the amnesty program for some tickets, but not for others. If you have old tickets or past due fines in collections give us a call or send an email to me at email@example.com to discuss your situation. I can give you a free evaluation and advise what effects the amnesty program will have on your individual situation. We can analyze your driver’s license situation in light of the amnesty program and I will try to educate you on how the law works and what it may accomplish or harm in your case. Then you can make the best decision for you to accomplish your goals in a cost effective manner.