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Home | Newsroom | Miscellaneous | California traffic courts hit poor, minority drivers hardest, report finds

California traffic courts hit poor, minority drivers hardest, report finds

Blacks, Latinos and California’s poor are disproportionately affected by driver’s license suspensions and arrests in California that are the result of unpaid traffic tickets, according to a new report.

For low-income residents, the inability to pay the initial fines can lead to mounting penalties and court assessments, driving them deeper into poverty, landing some in jail for nonpayment and making it harder for them to obtain and keep their jobs or their homes.

For those who are already barely making ends meet, a single traffic citation can snowball into something much worse.

A base fine can quickly balloon to $490 after additional penalties and fees are added, said Antionette Dozier, senior attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty and a co-author of the report.

If a person misses a court date or simply can’t pay up by the due date, the cost can spike to $815, and continue rising from there.

“For a person who’s very low income, who may be unemployed, who may be living on public assistance, on SSI because of a disability or because they are elderly, they can’t afford these payments,” she said.

If fines don’t work, the court can issue an arrest warrant or tell the DMV to suspend the person’s license, and it will likely do so without asking whether the person didn’t pay because they were unable or because they were unwilling, Dozier said.

“We’ve had many clients who have told us that they’ll go to the collection agency to try to make payment arrangements, and the arrangements that are made, and plans that they’re pushed into, are most often not plans that they can complete,” she said.

Across the board, people with lower incomes are hurt the most, but the report’s authors found that blacks and Latinos are also more likely than whites to end up arrested or jailed for driving on a suspended license after failing to appear in court or pay a fine.

In Los Angeles County, black residents are three and a half times more likely to be arrested for failure to appear or failure to pay than white residents, Dozier said.

“But when you look at the zip codes where people are impacted, where the percentage of black residents are above 20 percent, you also realize that those are low-income communities, communities like Compton, and Inglewood, and East L.A., where black and Latino residents make up the majority of the neighborhood population,” Dozier told KPCC.

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