Suit: California has illegally suspended licenses of more than 600,000 drivers

Low-income people suffer the most with the state's inflexible laws

A lawsuit filed in the Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday argues that the state of has illegally suspended licenses of more than 600,000 drivers who can’t afford to pay their increasingly expensive traffic tickets. The lawsuit argues that despite an amnesty program that was supposed to address the problem low-income families bear the brunt of exhorbitant fines they can’t afford to pay and end up losing their licenses.  

Alameda County Superior Court
Alameda County Superior Court

Last year Gov. and state lawmakers reduced fees for tickets issued before 2013. The move allowed many drivers to go back on the road. But the lawsuit argues that despite the reduced fee the state is still penalizing hundreds of thousands of former motorists for being poor.

“The consequences of losing a license are really severe. People need to commute to work, for medical appointments or to take their children to school. The state of has been charging people an exorbitant amount on traffic violations which is largely effecting the poor,” said Rebekah Evenson of Bay Area Legal Aid, lead attorney in the case.  

Evenson said that the lawsuit is aiming to make the process more fair for poor people and that there were many ways in which the state could accommodate low-income individuals like providing them with an option to do community service or pay their ticket in easy monthly installments. 

“No one should be forced to choose between keeping their driver’s license and putting food on the table for their family,” she said. Evenson also noted that the tickets also disproportionately impact people of color: “You have to see who gets stopped by the police more often” she said noting that while the license suspension, for not paying your fine and being unable to appear in court, is indefinite the penalties for Driving Under Influence are far shorter. 

The DMV declined when reached out for comment. 

Here’s a breakdown of the costs of a ticket by law and after added penalties:

Violation  Penalty by Law Total Cost with added penalties  
Using cellphone while driving  $20 $162
Jaywalking  $25 $197
 Failing to signal before changing lanes  $35  $238

 

The law allows the DMV to suspend a license only for “willfully” failing to pay a fine or appear in court not for failing to pay sums you can’t afford. The lawsuits argues that the state’s enforcement policy is unconstitutional and violates state statues. 

Guillermo Hernandez is the lead plaintiff in the case. Hernandez, a Contra Costa County resident was ticketed in March 2013 because he lacked a valid registration and hadn’t updated the address on his license, the suit said. Hernandez who was out of work since his small business shut down, could afford only $200 of the $900 he owed in fines and fees, and his license was suspended, the suit said. 

The lawsuit is arguing that the traffic court failed to notify Hernandez of his right to show that he could not afford to pay the fine before his license was suspended.  

  • Rob Jaques

    Exuberant? Or exorbitant?

    • Greg

      It’s irrational exuberance.

  • Greg

    This is all well and good, and I wholeheartedly agree with the article. But what the author fails to acknowledge is that liberals and progressives helped cause this in the first place.

    Liberals and progressives have long championed legislation making the lives of motorists more unpleasant.
    Seat belt laws, decreased speed limits, “pedestrian safety” measures, blub-outs and other traffic “calming” devices (which actually serve to irritate drivers rather than calm them), dedicated bus lanes, privacy-invading traffic cameras, onerous parking regulations, motorcycle helmet laws, mandatory child restraints that make kids feel like they’re in prison, lowering BAC to ridiculous levels, open container laws even if the driver isn’t drinking (!), license restrictions for young people (but not old people, because old people vote), cell phone prohibitions… all these and much more have been championed by liberals under the guise of keeping us safe.

    Well, what the hell do you expect?!? Who do you think is going to be most affected by this crap? Not people like me so much. True, I’m not female so I can’t use “female-only” defenses like turning on the waterworks to get out of tickets. But I have other tools at my disposal. I have the tenacity to aggressively challenge each and every ticket and have the savvy to know how to navigate the court system. I have money and I know where to find a good lawyer who can work magic with traffic tickets.

    But the working poor who have to work 3 jobs and don’t have the same resources, get eaten alive at the Hall of Injustice. The people who the racist police stop more often also bear the brunt just because of the sheer number of times they’re stopped.

    I’ve been screaming about the injustice of this highway robbery for years, as liberals and my fellow progressives have pushed for more and more laws empowering police to take advantage of people. But I’ve been a lonely voice in the wilderness. Now, the same people who have been giving police more tools, are now crying crocodile tears when they suddenly realize that those tools are being used against poor people and people of color. Duh! Who did you *think* was going to bear the brunt of these laws?

    • Porfirio666

      “mandatory child restraints that make kids feel like they’re in prison.”

      Yes, it would be much better to put the infants on the roof of the car, where they will feel “exuberant.”

      • Greg

        I remember riding in the front seat when I was a kid. I loved it. I hated being relegated to the back seat. Unless of course I could lie down and sleep on the back seat. Just some of the simple things you can’t do anymore because some well-meaning liberals decided “it’s not safe.” Bruce Springsteen even had some lyrics in his song “My Hometown” about being 8 years old and sitting on his fathers lap, steering the Buick as they drove around town. These days his father would get arrested for “child endangerment.” In the process of keeping us safe, they’re taking all the joy out of life.

        And then of course among the nasty side effects, is the fact that all these laws are enforced selectively.

        • OpenFullHeart

          Do you have kids? love any kids? a kid sleeping in a back seat without a seat belt can be very seriously hurt, even killed, in a car accident, including some relatively minor ones. Their little bodies get thrown about easily.

          Your whining about the front seat for kids is irrational. And, imo, immature.

          • Greg

            Well, like I said, I wasn’t too concerned about my safety, and I certainly care about myself. I survived and I wouldn’t have my former self sitting in a straightjacket for my own protection for anything.

            It’s not just one thing, it’s a steady drip drip drip of more rules and regulations. I don’t mind rules protecting people from others, but I draw the line at protecting me from myself. And we have to come to grips with the fact that life is full of risks. You can’t eliminate all risks in life, and if you try then you just take all the joy out of life.

  • What_the

    Not suspending licenses for being poor but for being poor drivers and not caring enough to get better because they know dimbos like Sana will try to spin it as an attack on being poor.

    • LKR1

      yo, stop the sexist comments

      • Greg

        I strongly disagree with the comment, but I don’t see what’s particularly sexist about it. I’m curious, where do you see sexism?

        • Jane Hardberry

          dimbo is a play on bimbo which is a word used to degrade women only, duh

          • Greg

            Ah… so an insult aimed mainly at one gender is sexist. OK, I can see where one would come to that view. So in your opinion, are all insults that are applied exclusively or almost exclusively to one gender sexist? For example insults like “”d1ck,” “loser”, and “man-child?” Or is it only sexism if it’s lobbed at a woman?

            I’ll tell you what *is* sexism. I didn’t bring this up originally, but since we’re on the subject of sexism, I’ll go ahead and say what’s not PC to say… liberal blinders to injustices faced by men. The article is all well and good as far as it goes. Poor people, people of color *are* disproportionately affected by these onerous laws and exorbitant tickets. You know who else is? Men! More often than not, it’s MEN who get stopped by cops, it’s MEN who lose their licenses, and MEN who get stuck paying these exorbitant bills. Yeah, women too, but more often, men.

            The fact that Sana can write an article like this about the discriminatory enforcement of traffic laws, and not mention the word “men,” and the fact that no one even sees this glaring oversight, that is sexism. When people of color and poor people are victimized, there’s a lot of bellyaching about what can be done to remedy the situation… at least among liberals; conservatives don’t give a rat’s ass. And of course liberals’ hypocrisy in another sense helped cause this mess, which is the subject of my post below, but that’s another matter. But NOBODY, liberals or conservatives, seems to care if men are victimized. Men, as victims, are invisible. That is where the real sexism lies.

          • jhayes362

            To prove this point you need to do two things: document the number of miles driven by men relative to the number driven by women; document the number and types of tickets given to men and women on a per-mile basis.

            Unless, of course, you intended your post as a joke.

          • Greg

            Fair enough. I’ve made that argument myself in a slightly different context, as I’ll explain. Let me poke a couple holes in that theory.

            Your argument is akin to the argument that conservatives make in response to liberals, when liberals decry the racism of stop and frisk and differences in incarceration rates. Conservatives always say that it’s solely because black and brown people commit more crimes. Of course the counterargument is 1) what is it in society that makes this the case, and 2) is it solely, or is there an element of racism/profiling, too?

            Likewise here…
            1) Yes men drive more. They’re more likely to be employed in driving jobs such as long haul truck driver, garbage collector, taxi driver, pizza delivery, etc. (coincidentally dangerous and not-so-great jobs). They’re more likely to be behind the wheel when a family goes on vacation. When a family chooses where to live, more often than not they’ll choose to spare the wife the longer commute. Men are also more likely to be in the position of sole breadwinner than women. So why is that? What societal pressures cause this situation?
            2) Let’s be honest here. Clearly there are some avenues of defense against tickets that are open only to women, and women themselves admit to using them to great effect. Let’s not kid ourselves -crying your way out of tickets WORKS, and that amounts to preferential treatment of women by the police.

            Now back to your argument….
            So here’s where the element of blindness to injustice comes in. Insurance companies charge men more for car insurance. They justify it on the grounds that men get more tickets. Why do men get more tickets? I would argue that it’s because 1. they drive more, and 2. sexist preferential treatment (elements of both). But here’s the rub. Insurance companies already count miles driven. They document how many miles you drive your car, and they STILL charge men more for the same amount of miles, just because they’re men.

            Now we recognize that charging someone more for things they can’t control is wrong. That’s why Mark Leno authored a bill forbidding insurance companies from charging women more for health insurance. Insurance companies argued that they do it because women are more likely to see the doctor and therefore USE their health insurance! But still, it’s not right. I believe the bill passed. I actually talked with Leno about this. I said, “That’s a great bill, Mark. How about a similar bill forbidding auto insurance companies from charging men more?” You know what a he said? He said, “We’re not there yet.”

            And “we’re not there yet,” because society is blind to injustice when men are the victims.

            Look, I’m a feminist. I believe in equal rights, equal pay, and all the rest. But if we’re going to have equal rights, let’s have equal rights. We can’t fight for equality when we only see one side of injustice.

          • jhayes362

            Your evidence that men drive more is interesting, but anecdotal. It would never be accepted in a scientific paper.

            As for men being charged more than women for auto insurance, I suspect that may be the case with teenagers (based on testosterone, lack of brain development, and the stupid young man syndrome) but my evidence is purely anecdotal. It may be, however, that insurance companies have data on this.

            In my family, our auto insurance rates are based on the following: autos insured, levels of coverage, and driving records for my wife and myself. We get discounts for low biannual mileage for each car. It doesn’t matter which of us is driving it. Early on, when we first joined our policies, an agent told me that I would be cheaper to insure because I had more years behind the wheel. She’s been driving long enough that I doubt that condition still holds.