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  • Posted June 23, 2017

Move California traffic tickets into civil courts


June 22, 2017 at 12:04 am

When your car’s tail light fades from red to black, and a cop pulls you over and writes you a ticket, it’s certainly something that, for safety’s sake, you ought to get fixed — but is it really a criminal offense?

Right now in California, it is. But a panel of our state’s top judges, led by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, correctly says that it ought not to be, for a variety of reasons, and they are proposing decriminalizing such infractions — including “California stops” while turning right at a red light, and failing to use your turn signal — by handling them in civil courts instead.

Serious violations of the vehicle code, very much including drunk driving, would still be handled as criminal issues.


But the expense and bother of California motorists being forced to defend themselves in criminal courts has been counterproductive, if the goal of punishing traffic violations is to create safer roads rather than hassling citizens and depleting their bank accounts.

More than 4 million traffic tickets are issued each year in our state. Under the current criminal system, drivers who don’t show up for their first court date are hit with fines of up to $300 and the loss of their licenses. If not paid immediately, a $100 fine for a broken light can balloon to $490, which forces poorer drivers who can’t come up with the cash into a spiral of hiding from the system, hoping they don’t get pulled over again. Jail awaits those who do — another expensive proposition.

The plan from the panel of judges includes a pilot technology project that would enable attorneys and others involved in a case to participate in a hearing without having to physically appear in court. Instead, they could dial in through Skype or other applications from other locations, allowing them to avoid missing work or school.

The recommendations would have to be turned into a legislative bill, passed by both the Assembly and state Senate and signed into law by the governor. That’s just what should happen over the next year or so.

There’s no logical reason to continue with a system that encourages scofflawism and depletes the pocketbooks of Californians while not doing anything to improve the safety of everyone who is on the road.