First Stop, Traffic School. Second Stop, the Poor House

Scofflaws pay. One ticket. One arm and a leg.


I’m helping to solve California’s fiscal crisis, but not because I want to.

Just last month, as I was heading back home from Danville's Blackhawk Plaza with my elderly mom, aunt and uncle, I got pulled over in Windemere, where I live, and a very polite San Ramon police officer asked me if I knew why.

I didn’t.

“Do you know what you are supposed to do at flashing red lights?” he asked. I realized then that slowing down and looking both ways in the intersection where that light was out wasn’t the right answer, which is what I had done.

I took the high road and confessed, despite the protests and advice of my front and back seat driver family members. My aunt was posturing for a fight; my uncle recommended the silent treatment, and my Mom was fixated on the fact that I should have known better. 

Traffic school, here I come, I thought. My mind wandered as the officer took his time writing my ticket. Will I choose improve or comedy school? (Really? What makes traffic school funny?) So many choices. 

I swore my family members to secrecy before I pulled back onto the road. No spoiling the weekend by telling my husband. I needed to find just the right moment to reveal the secret, or better yet, devise a devious interception of the ticket.

In the end I did tell all, spurred by the fact that I didn’t feel that bad since my husband had been slapped with a ticket after dozens of years with a clean record, and I had already ragged on him about the eventual bill and his insistence in fighting it to the bitter end. 

Little did I know the price of being a scofflaw had gone up — a lot.

I was on a business trip when I spotted an email in big, bold, all cap, red letters — my husband’s warning shot. $541 was the subject line.

$541 for a ticket?

Then he rampaged about the California financial crisis and the state’s thirst for revenue. Scofflaws like me are paying the price for the bailout of our financially-strapped state and city.

Traffic school, here I come. But no funny business. I'll take the straight stuff, online.

Next stop: the poor house.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Albert Rubio December 08, 2012 at 06:01 AM
By far the biggest fallacy in this discussion is that this is not a safety question. Because Raising fines does not make people safer. Therefore it becomes unethical and a waste of resources. This is really a political and economic question. Should the state operate the roads, codify rules and administer their enforcement? It is not a logical necessity for the state to own and operate the roads, even if you prefer them to. Safety has value and so does efficient transportation. Like all other areas of products and services, in the unhampered market, new ways and ideas can continually improve modes and methods. But rules for the sake of rules is blind (especially when other methods are available) and often a fetish tied to faith in state authority.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop December 08, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Any due respect, you argue from what is called the "hamster wheel perspective". You are so far afield as to be without meaning or relevance. The author of this post should play by the rules. What she tries to portray as "sticker shock" is really arrogance and superciliousness.
Albert Rubio December 08, 2012 at 04:28 PM
From Wikipedia treatise On Crimes and Punishments, In 1764 Cesare Beccaria published a brief but justly celebrated treatise On Crimes and Punishments. In it, Beccaria put forth some of the first modern arguments against the death penalty. His treatise was also the first full work of penology, advocating reform of the criminal law system. The book was the first full-scale work to tackle criminal reform and to suggest that criminal justice should conform to rational principles. The principles to which Beccaria appealed were Reason, an understanding of the state as a form of contract, and, above all, the principle of utility, or of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. He openly condemned the death penalty on two grounds: * first, because the state does not possess the right to take lives; and * secondly, because capital punishment is neither a useful nor a necessary form of punishment. Beccaria developed in his treatise a number of innovative and influential principles: * punishment had a preventive (deterrent), not a retributive, function; * punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed; * the certainty of punishment, not its severity, would achieve the preventive effect; * procedures of criminal convictions should be public; and finally, * in order to be effective, punishment should be prompt. He also argued against gun control laws. He was among the first to advocate the beneficial influence of education in lessening crime.
Giorgio C. December 08, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Albert, Allow me to help you follow my reasoning. The average salary in California is $51,910.00 or $24.96 hourly. The $541.00 penalty is 1/96th of the average salary that could be paid off with reasonable effort by the average person. This, to me, seems like a small price to pay for the potential loss of live that cannot be repaired at any cost. In fact, in comparison to the potential horrific consequences, $541 is almost negligible, hence my comment "seems like a small price."
Albert Rubio December 08, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Giorgo, I understood the reasoning from the first. 1. All value judgments are subjective. That is why a bargain to one person is still worthless to another. 2. We have insurance to cover the costs of accidents and injury. People can decide how much monetary risk they want to have and pay for varying amounts of insurance. 3. All people are responsible for the injury and damage they create, which is the real deterrent not traffic fines. (though I admit they can aid up to a point) 4. There are serious political dangers allowing the state to monopolize larger systems of compulsory fines. 5. No one can argue 1/96 of the average salary is a lot or a little. It is subjective and depends on what is received in return. Once seeing a much more agreeable and cheaper aid to safety is available, what was previously a bargain now becomes a waste. I argue from Economics and a philosophy of liberty which is in the interest of the many and not any group against other groups.
Albert Rubio December 08, 2012 at 05:29 PM
insurance premiums are much better measures of cost and objective deterrence than are government fines. In an unhampered market, insurance premiums are the result of competition and are related to ACTUAL costs of accidents and only go up for poor drivers while becoming cheaper for good drivers. Also, it remains a voluntary process open to innovation, improvement, competition and is not a central repository of arbitrary and authority which have NONE of these benefits.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop December 08, 2012 at 05:56 PM
"As for the large price tag, what is that in 1963 dollars? Hmm...$1.00 in 1963 had the same buying power as $7.42 in 2012. Annual inflation over this period was 4.18%. So, $541/7.42= $72. and change. Not so far out of line, really."
Giorgio C. December 08, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Albert, I'm all for data-driven solutions. Add the fact that many cities have decreased the number of police officers, decreasing the likelihood that anyone will get caught, decreasing the chance that they will be fined and-or that their insurance will be impacted. With less officers, "progressive discipline" does not even exist. That luxury has been taken away from us. With the insurance option, minus issuance of fines by police officers, you are relying on accidents to act as the deterrent? Then it is too late, isn't it? The whole idea was to prevent the accident in the first place. For some, the first accident is the one with tragic consequences. Poor drivers do not follow a pattern of "progressive severity" with respect to their accidents. They do not start out as "fender bender" offenders, gradually progressing to perpetrators of manslaughter. I must be missing your point.
Chris Nicholson December 08, 2012 at 06:59 PM
@Giorgio: Maybe I can help. As a first order matter, road safety comes free and automatic. People want to preserve their own lives and property and the biggest risks are borne by the driver himself. People learn the basic rules of the road and generally act reasonably. This would be true even if we stopped all "prophylactic" enforcement of rules (violations that did not casue harm--- but merely increased the risk of harm). Secondly, you need to differentiate between violations that increase risk/harm without collective benefit (like drifting across lanes of highway) and those that have a collective benefit as well as potentially increase risk (speeding, rolling stop signs when no one appears to be there). In the latter cases, much of the risk/cost is internalized (born by driver), by he also inflicts "negative externalities" on nearby drivers by increasing their risk in exchange for no benefit. This is a market failure and we should correct it if we want the optimal balance of risk and efficiency. It is illogical and Orwellian to give tickets for conduct that does not increase risk. The optimal ticket price would reflect the actuarial cost of the extra risk inflicted during that driving period, grossed up by a factor to reflect the probability of detection. I think it is cheaper and better to give up on tickets and just wait for outcomes (collisions) and make the at-fault party liable for all damages, plus a stiff penalty for deterrence.
Kenny December 08, 2012 at 08:56 PM
My God Marcia, 140 and some posts over a moving violation that you clearly admit to. Do you get paid by the post? If so, I'm sure you are covered. But the real question is, will you do it again?
Patchreader December 10, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Gianni Pete Passakos: Monday, July 16, 2012Arrest on O'Byrnes Ferry Road for Possession of Controlled Substance On July 13, Gianni Peter Passakos, 40 of San Ramon, was arrested and cited for Possession of a Controlled Substance, a felony and for DUI Alcohol or Drugs, a misdemeanor
Albert Rubio December 10, 2012 at 05:28 AM
Giorgo, >With the insurance option, minus issuance of fines by police officers, you are relying on accidents to act as the deterrent? Then it is too late, isn't it? Chris Nicholson has useful comments. Yet you, Giorgo, are relying on Tickets to act as the deterrent? Then it is too late, isn't it? (since the ticket is given only after the violation). The truth is that people rationally are deterred for two reasons, damage and injury to THEMSELVES, and then to OTHERS and this occurs BEFORE any accident. All you need to do is ask yourself if you would blithely go through a red light if there were no fine. Most people would only do so if they felt it was safe. There are indeed people who are less deterred than others. This cannot be avoided. There is a limit to deterrence and only fanatics try to push deterrence into a false linear formula where the greater the penalty, the better the results. The real world has never borne this out.
Robert Livesay December 10, 2012 at 08:27 PM
I find it hard to believe that folks that break the law are upset with the fine. All day long you are paying additional charges for many things. Lets just try the bridge tollo.. An extra $1.00 for the Enviro Greenies so we can have a new bus stop. Now I must admit safety and beautification are exceptable. But 3 mil for that paid out of the bridge toll funds to try and make people get out of their cars. First off it will not happen. Secondly the city should have planned and budgeted for it. Not so. The word GRANT is what the mayor lives by. So the price of the ticket is just a very small part of what residents are getting charged for on a daily bases. Think about it.
Davis December 10, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Robert, I don't believe many folks realize that bridge tolls have gone crazy expensive. A car is $5.00, A motorhome is $5.00(two axle),but with a tow car (two axles) equal 4 axles that equate to $20 buck to cross Bay Area Bridges. $5.00 per axle. It would be interesting to see folks towing motorized vehicles to disconnect and save $10!!!
Robert Livesay December 10, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Thank you JB. The real issue is the the folks are charged extra all the time and do not seem to complain or even understand what the extra charge is for. So what is the issue with a traffic ticket? Obey the law and you will have no problem. Can not avoid the bridge.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop December 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM
$72 is the 1963 equivalent of today's $541. Not so outrageous if one factors in inflation. Now, if you have slipped by so far not knowing a flashing red light means 'complete stop' then you are lucky to be alive. Now that we have established you are a sandwich or two short of a picnic in the common sense department. I is likely a waste of time to ask that you obey all traffic laws and if in doubt, always error on the safety side of the equation. I remember when gas was $0.19 a gallon around here during the 'gas wars they had back then (50s - 60s). I'm surprised that the SR Patch isn't outraged by gas prices approaching $5!!! Yeow! It must be the communists, or the Democrats or the Tea Baggers. Try concerning yourselves with real 'issues' like a total, no exceptions ban on Assault Rifles! If the NRA wants legitimacy, they had better start differentiating between the non-collector, non-hunting or non-competitive shooting nutcases waiting fer the gov'ment to crash thru their doors and steal their weapons designed for only one thing, killing humans. The founding fathers had yet to envision "Bushmasters" when the Bill of Rights was written. They had better devise a 'mental competency' criteria associated with gun purchases. Like having a 'check up from the neck up' for the room temperature IQ crowd.
Albert Rubio December 21, 2012 at 12:36 AM
All irrelevant Nonsense...
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop December 23, 2012 at 03:48 AM
To you Senior Rubio, it appears many important ideas and concepts are irrelevant. And as for Nonsense, most of your comments are simply critical and offer nothing approaching remedy or solution. You seem intent on expensive scientific exploration into wrapping us all in protective apparel and apparati in lieu of simply obeying the laws as written, Sounds neither practical or feasible. Like you. As you said early on, "I don't know what to call this point of view I am opposing", you may want to begin with understanding instead of glandular cheat-beating.
Albert Rubio December 23, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Your fetish with the value of the 1963 dollar and other "real issues" are completely irrelevant to the discussion. clearly I have offered many ideas and solutions to think about, if you were more honest you would admit that you simply don't like them. That is not my problem however. I offer no expensive solution, on the contrary, far more simple ones without government monopoly.
Albert Rubio December 23, 2012 at 04:16 AM
You and the host of persistent sermonizers refuse to acknowledge the intent of the article is focused on the AMOUNT of a fine that is reasonable. This point is persistently evaded by moralizing the "follow the law" mantra. There is a principle that the penalty should fit the so called crime. This issue has more elements than your simplistic mantra of "follow the law" Apparently this original point is falling on implacably deaf ears. If you personally don't want to acknowledge the writers point, I really don't care, but it is impertinent to pretend in a public discussion that your mantra precludes the original point. It clearly does not.
SalthePlumber December 23, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Amen, Albert. The fines are off the chart and just another abuse of a money-hungry State government...
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop December 26, 2012 at 06:28 PM
The depth and breadth of your ignorance is only surpassed by your willingness to broadcast it. You don't like the laws, then I suggest you return to your planet of origin. You are the consummate interstellar whiner.
Albert Rubio December 26, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Another evasion of the point! You are a perfect example of those who think they know what they do not [and cannot] know. "Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish."
Albert Rubio December 26, 2012 at 06:49 PM
For those who love the law: "Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add 'within the limits of the law' because law is often but the tyrant's will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual. " Thomas Jefferson
Albert Rubio December 26, 2012 at 07:04 PM
There is no use in trading insults. just make a better argument so that we may all be better instructed. If you are set against this then it is more appropriate for you to leave for this is a public forum for useful thoughts and arguments. Evasion is the absence of any argument which is all I see from the Pharisee camp.
Ron Skrehot December 26, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Californian politicians (and their followers) blame everything on proposition 13. The fact is that every time people sold and bought another house their taxes went up. Every time a new house was sold (and since passage of 13 it is a huge number) those new assessments generated a lot of money for the state. The problem again comes down to spending. Every time revenue went up in this state, increased spending followed close behind. During the four years of Gray Davis, the state increased it's employee base by 20,000. As the bureaucracy got bigger and revenue started to drop, instead of reducing where the newest spending had occurred, old services were cut. That is still happening today but prop 13 is the easy target on the revolving wheel that we always throw the dart at because we stick it in the center. Our state govenrment officials have made the bureaucracy more important than the people which it is supposed to serve. Now the state is making a high speed rail project more important than even the education of our children. This is unexceptable, but as a state we still vote the same way we did 20 years ago. How can we expect change if we don't change?
Chris Nicholson December 26, 2012 at 08:48 PM
The situation is more nuanced. We have an obligation to obey laws enacted in accordance with the Constitution, and the only reasonable approach is to grant a strong presumption of validity for all laws (lest we descend into chaos). The framework itself provides for several mechanisms to fix bad laws. We don't have to love laws or give ANY moral deference to the law-- but we should obey current laws. At the same time, and without contradiction, we can express our opinion that certain laws are dumb, misguided and/or unconstitutional. Individual freedom/liberty is the core of our system (or, at least that was the original intent), so I hope we all fall in love with that. But we need not love the inevitable flaws borne of our system-- we rather should seek to correct them pursuant to the system.
Albert Rubio December 26, 2012 at 08:53 PM
well said Chris and I agree with you. Unfortunately we are in small company. I hope this changes one day soon.
Roger December 28, 2012 at 02:41 PM
About high traffic fines and red light running tickets. Because of the infrastructure of red light cameras we now know that red light cameras do not reduce the number of violations. The numbers are not coming down. There is a consistent and reliable revenue stream largely due to motorists not coming to a complete stop before turning right. There is very little evidence of a direct safety benefit.
Roger February 07, 2013 at 05:13 AM
For those who say "the law is the law" you don't recognize that the city's engineers can set the yellow light at below the minimum required for the speed of traffic. That means that many people will not have adequate stopping time. That means that the city can actually CREATE law breaking by ordinarily good drivers. Those that say the "law is the law" forget the fact that safety is the primary concern. To actually set signal lights which increase red light running is legal. But does that support safety????


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