How to get a thousand-dollar parking ticket

October 1, 2013
Do not speed over this bridge. It will cost you. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Do not speed over this bridge. It will cost you. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Be careful next time you fail to signal while driving through the Hollywood hills, or speed over the Golden Gate bridge, or roll through a stop sign on Coronado: Breaking traffic laws in California turns out to be really expensive.

The Center for Investigative Reporting tells the story of Derick Neal, a software engineer who apparently triggered a red light camera in April. The ticket Neal got in the mail cost him $490 — and he had to spend an extra $59 on traffic school.

More than 6 million Californians get traffic tickets every year, and the price is shooting up. Running a red light would have cost Neal $103 in 1993; today, it’s almost five times that price. Driving more than 15 miles per hour over the speed limit will earn a $238 fine. And heaven help you if you park in a space reserved for a handicapped driver — that’s a $1,107 ticket.

Cash-strapped governments frequently use traffic tickets to fill budget gaps. Speed cameras and red-light cameras netted $85 million for Washington, D.C. in Fiscal Year 2012, and now the city says it will install cameras at even more intersections. The Center for Investigative Research cited a California Research Bureau study that estimated the Golden State took in more than half a billion dollars in traffic violations in 2006.

The introduction of traffic cameras has led to an increase in the number of tickets that are contested. About 4.5 percent of all tickets issued were contested in 2003; that number spiked to 7.1 percent by 2011, the Center reported.

It’s not just the state (or district) that gets in on the revenue. Counties, hospitals, courts and the state’s DNA identification fund get in on the action. Here’s how California breaks down that massive bill you risk if you park in a handicapped spot without the proper documentation:

Base fine: $250
State penalty: $250
County penalty: $175
DNA identification fund: $125
Court construction fund: $125
State surcharge: $50
Emergency medical service fund: $50
Emergency medical air service fund: $4
Court operations: $40
Conviction assessment: $35
Night court fund: $1
TAP fee: $2

Total: $1,107.

See the whole roster of infractions and how much they’ll cost you here [pdf] courtesy the Judicial Council of California.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson | October 1, 2013