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Commentary: Excessive Traffic Fines Unfair

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, March 4, 2011

Three years ago if you were caught failing to make a complete stop at a red light before turning into an intersection, it would cost you $371 dollars. Today that same violation costs $470 dollars, 37 percent more. Is the violation 37 percent more egregious? Of course not. State and local governments, the courts and other public enterprise these penalties finance are just more desperate.

Fines have increased across the board for almost every kind of violation.

A "California roll" at a stop sign instead of a complete stop is up from $161 to $236 dollars. Parking illegally in a disabled space up from $881 bucks to over a thousand dollars.

State Senator Darrel Steinberg concedes that fines are "one of the patches that we've relied upon to avoid deeper cuts."

Sadly the high cost of fines falls disproportionately on the poor. Because their communities are more heavily policed, they are more likely to be caught rolling through a stop sign or driving with a broken tail light. Attempts to roll back excessive fines have been rebuffed. Cities, counties and other needy recipients of fine money make a powerful lobby. But there is a cost. Vulnerable people are made more desperate and the society we live in becomes more unjust and unfair.

Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.

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