California today starts an amnesty program for residents who can’t afford to pay off spiraling traffic fines and court fees that have led to millions of driver’s licenses being suspended, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The program is part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget and runs through March 31, 2017. Drivers with lesser infractions would pay either 50 or 80 percent of what they owe, depending on income. Some drivers would be able to apply for installment payments for outstanding tickets. Drunken-driving and reckless-riving violations are not eligible.
Since 2006, the state has suspended 4.8 million driver’s licenses after motorists failed to pay or appear in court. Of those, only about 83,000 licenses were reinstated. Brown has called the traffic court system a “hellhole of desperation” for the poor. Traffic fines have been skyrocketing in the state, and courts have grown reliant on fees as a result of budget cuts during the recession. Twenty years ago, the fine for running a red light was $103. Today, it costs as much as $490, including add-on fees to support everything from court construction to emergency medical air transportation. The cost can jump to over $800 once a person fails to pay or misses a traffic court appearance.