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

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

$541????? 

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.

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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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