FAQ: California drivers may be eligible for traffic fine amnesty program

On Thursday, California kicks off an amnesty program that will allow some drivers to reduce their amount owed by up to 80 percent and get their licenses reinstated. Here's what you need to know.
On Thursday, California kicks off an amnesty program that will allow some drivers to reduce their amount owed by up to 80 percent and get their licenses reinstated. Here's what you need to know.
Stock photo by Chris Yarzab/Flickr Creative Commons

If you've got past-due traffic tickets piling up, you may be eligible for an amnesty program that goes into effect Thursday.

The traffic tickets and infractions amnesty program, enacted by the legislature earlier this year, would make some drivers eligible for a 50 percent to 80 percent reduction in the citation amount and a possible reinstatement of their driver's license if it was on hold.

The program applies specifically to outstanding citations that were due by January 1, 2013.

A similar program in 2012 netted the state $12.3 million over its six months, according to the Sacramento Bee. The new program will last 18 months.

As the Bee reports, amnesty programs can help bring relief to lower-income residents who may find it difficult to pay the stiff fines and who may be even more affected if their license is suspended for nonpayment:

California has come under criticism in recent years for its stiff traffic fines, which include add-on fees and assessments that triple and quadruple the base fines for infractions. Civil rights groups and advocates for the poor argue the violations disproportionately affect the poor and minorities, and that the inability to pay a ticket can put lower-income drivers at risk of losing their jobs if they lose their licenses.

Determining whether you are eligible can be complicated, so we've put together the following FAQ, based on information from California Courts, to help you navigate the system.

Who's eligible?

Anyone with a traffic ticket or infraction can apply as long as they are eligible for a driver's license. This includes undocumented immigrants eligible for a license under AB 60.

What tickets are included?

Any infraction where payment was due by January 1, 2013. This includes unpaid tickets and related "failure to appear" violations, but not parking tickets, reckless driving or DUI cases. Some courts and counties may extend amnesty for certain misdemeanors.

How much will be forgiven?

The amount deducted from your citation depends on your income and whether you've already attempted to make a payment.

If you make less than 125 percent of the poverty level ($14,712 for an individual or $30,312 for a family of four), or you receive public assistance, you can get the amount reduced by 80 percent.

Everyone else can have the amount reduced by 50 percent.

That said, if you made a payment on a ticket after June 24, 2015, you won't be eligible for a reduction on that citation, though you may still be eligible to have your license reinstated.

How do I apply?

Starting Thursday, contact the superior court where you got the ticket. If you have tickets in more than one county, you will need to contact each court separately. You can look up the relevant court here.

Bob Fleshman, a supervisor in the California Judicial Council's finance office, told KPCC the program is complex. He recommended checking an individual court's website for its procedures before attempting to apply.

"You know, phone lines generally aren't staffed to accommodate an influx of calls, so definitely touching base online would be the recommended way, or going in in person, which is really the guaranteed way to see if an individual is eligible to participate in the program," Fleshman said.

What’s the catch?

You may be disqualified from the program if you owe victim's restitution or have outstanding misdemeanor or felony warrants.

There are other fees associated with the program. You may owe a $50 amnesty program fee to the superior court or county, and the Department of Motor Vehicles will charge $55 to get your driver's license reinstated.

What if I can't pay what I owe right away?

A court, county or third-party collections vendor will offer a payment plan option, with a repayment schedule based on your individual financial situation.

Here's an additional video explainer from the courts: