August 17, 2014
Written By: Michael Harris

Are you waiting for another amnesty program like the one California held back 2012? Don’t hold your breath waiting for another fifty percent discount.

During the months of January through June 2012, the State of California gave drivers who had outstanding traffic tickets a break. The state gave a fifty percent discount to most drivers who had old unpaid traffic tickets if they cleared the debt during this six-month amnesty period.

Only certain tickets were eligible for the amnesty program. This included all adult and juvenile vehicle code and non-vehicle code infractions. Other traffic tickets due to be paid before January 1, 2009, could have been eligible too. There was also fine print: First, the ticket had to be at least three years old (which means that it had to be issued on or before January 1, 2009); you could not owe restitution to a victim in any case within the county were the violation was filed; you could have no outstanding warrants on other matters. The amnesty program could not be used for violations for parking, driving under the influence, or reckless driving. And if fees or assessments were added to your ticket, you had to pay fifty percent of those too. You also had to pay the ticket in one lump sum. You could, however, use a credit card in most cases.

The amnesty program was used to generate revenue by getting people to pay fees that they probably would never have paid, even if it was only half of the ticket amount. In some counties, the program had great success. Los Angeles County, for example, collected $6 million. San Diego County collected over $300,000. But others did not fare as well—Santa Clara County collected a mere $175,000.

The amnesty program is expensive to run—costing some counties around $32,000, which for some was the amount they were able to collect.

So should you wait around for another amnesty program instead of paying your ticket? The state advertised it as a one-time program. But California has run similar programs before—one in 1992 and one in 1996—so it is not out of the question. But it even if the state does chose to give drivers another shot, it may not be such a great deal the next time around. You can probably expect less of a discount and more add-on fees so that the counties have the chance to raise more revenue.