San Francisco

Low-Income Drivers in Bay Area Unfairly Punished for Traffic Violations: Report

Low-income drivers in the Bay Area are being unfairly punished for traffic violations, according to a new report.

The study, titled "Paying More For Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California's Traffic Court System," was published last week by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR). It found the high price tag for speeding and red light violations are too steep for many in the Bay Area to pay.

Now some are fighting to change it.

In San Jose, some argue that running a red light shouldn’t come with jail time. And the $490 fine is three times the national average, the report says. [[422606984, C]]"One of the things we’re pushing is to implement a process by which people's ability to pay the fines and fees are assessed before they’re saddled with debt," said Jude Pond, an attorney with LCCR.

Failure to pay the designated fines could mean jail time, but Pond is fighting for a statewide system that would offer other options to low-income offenders who are unable to afford traffic fines.

"Things like community service, receiving social services. going to traffic school," Pond said.

According to the report, Alameda and Santa Clara counties had the highest numbers of people in the Bay Area booked into jail for not paying traffic fines.

On the flip side, San Francisco has a moratorium on driver's license suspension, with the idea that people need to drive to work in order to make more money to pay any traffic fines.

"We really we need a statewide solution," said Pond, who has taken the fight for a more flexible punishment policy to state lawmakers.

Meanwhile, there are some drivers who believe steep fines make the commute a little safer.

"You decide to break the law, you’ve got to pay the price," said Luis Sanchez. "It hopefully discourages them from speeding. Honestly, it’s a safety thing."

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