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Exorbitant traffic fees stripped too many drivers of licenses

Everyone has a story: The time an unlicensed driver rear-ended me. The time an unlicensed driver ran a red light and killed a co-worker’s dog as her husband was walking the dog in a crosswalk. It seems as if there are so many unlicensed drivers in California that authorities are not capable of deterring the unlicensed from getting behind the wheel.

In fact, according to a report by Western Center, 17 percent of licensed California drivers have suspended driver’s licenses — not for dangerous driving but for failing to pay off citations for minor traffic offenses. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice faulted authorities in Ferguson, Mo., for engaging in a toxic pattern of burying African American residents in fines and penalties for minor offenses with the goal of serving “revenue not public safety needs.” It turns out California has been dishing out the same dirty treatment to its diverse commuting class.

“We literally stumbled onto this issue,” one of the report’s authors, Mike Herald of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, told me. “No one was keeping track of all these things we were loading onto the court system, and no one was keeping track of the number of suspensions.”

 

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