Traffic Laws and Ticket Tips You Need to Know

Here in Los Angeles, and California in general, we’re driving around every day.  Whether it’s going to work, the store, or out, we’re either on the road or parked somewhere, and that means that tickets are always a possibility.

Even pedestrians are getting ticketed – and for little-known laws even we didn’t know existed.  For instance, did you know that it’s illegal to start crossing the street once the red “Do Not Walk” sign starts flickering?  Apparently, it’s a violation of Section 21456(b) of the California Vehicle Code.  While jaywalking violations are not typically enforced around Los Angeles County, police are now issuing thousands of citations for these types of infractions in high foot traffic areas, like parts of Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles.

And for drivers negotiating pedestrian-filled roads, did you know that it is also apparently illegal to turn through an intersection when there are ANY pedestrians in the crosswalk?  Even if they are just starting to cross on the other side of the intersection.  If there is any pedestrian within or about to enter the crosswalk, turning is a violation to yield, found under Section 21950(a) of the California Vehicle Code.

These citations are becoming publicized issues in Los Angeles, garnering articles in the L.A. Times.  On the one hand, authorities argue these regulations are in place to protect pedestrians and increase intersection efficiency.  On the other hand, those cited argue that the regulations are crafted to maximize revenue without addressing the real issues of dangerous crossing conditions and congestion.  Something to think about next time you’re making a right turn. . .

Unfortunately for pedestrian citations, they are extraordinarily difficult to contest.  If you receive one of those, your best bet is to pay the fine, and in a timely manner – those particular tickets increase exponentially if not taken care of by the specified dates.  If you’ve received a traffic or speeding ticket, and you know you’re at fault, the right thing to do is to pay the fine, take your traffic school, and move on.  But, if there was a serious issue and you believe that it wasn’t your fault, then you’re entitled to contest the ticket.  And we’ve got some helpful tips for helping you “get out” of your ticket:

  •  If your ticket was due to a “mistake of fact” like a faded red zone you accidentally parked in or a stop sign you breezed through because it was being blocked by a low-hanging tree branch: these are not your fault!  If you can show the mistake was in good faith and reasonable, your ticket will likely be dismissed.  Just bring some pictures with you to Traffic Court.
  • If you can prove your conduct was necessary to avoid harm or was otherwise legally justified.  These are the only mitigating factors judges will consider.  Otherwise, traffic laws are generally statutory, meaning that excuses and explanations don’t help – all that matters is whether you violated the rule.  These arguments are usually employed when tickets are issued for driving too slow, driving too fast, changing lanes without signalling, swerving through traffic, or pulling to the side when the driver is in distress.  Amazingly enough, a number of such tickets have been dismissed for instances of a bee flying in through an open window.  Even though it seems that the unsafe driving would be much more dangerous than the bee, the odds of dying from a hornet, wasp, or bee sting are 1 in 79,842.  However, the odds of getting into an accident are not so much a question of if, but rather when (on average, 1 in 366 for every 1,000 miles driven).  So, act accordingly?
  • Another option: Did you know that Californians can skip court entirely?  Vehicle Code Section 40902 allows for Californians to contest citations in writing, without ever having to personally appear in court.  This is called Trial by Declaration and it’s available to anyone with a Vehicle Code violation as long as he or she fills out the requisite forms.
  • One last tip (and not necessarily one that we endorse) is that if you get to court and the issuing police officer does not show up, you win by default and the ticket will be dismissed.  While there’s no way of knowing if the officer will show or not, some people believe requesting an extension (which is automatically granted if the proper request is made) is the key to getting a default judgment.  But, like we said, there is no guarantee in this case, other than that your court date will be postponed anywhere from 6 weeks up to a year.

There are over 6 million tickets given out yearly in California, with many common violations costing around $500.  Strangely enough though, the base cost of the infraction hasn’t significantly changed in the last two decades.  What has changed is the addition of fines to the base cost that include state penalty assessments, county penalty assessments, and state, court, and emergency surcharges that now make up the bulk of any ticket amount.  Compounding the issue is when tickets go unpaid, they result in suspended licenses, which in turn lead to more tickets and fines.  It seems clear we have a bit of a ticketing problem.

But, both Governor Brown and one legislator out of Van Nuys are working to try to fix it.  Governor Brown’s proposed Traffic Amnesty Bill (an extension of his 2012 program) would be an 18 month window allowing people with unpaid tickets to settle all debts owed for about half the fined amount.  As it stands, California has about $10 billion in delinquent court-ordered debt, the vast bulk of which is traffic related.  The number might seem staggering, but it’s important to remember that the majority of the amount comes from accumulated late fees, penalties, and interest.  The proposed program would seek to recoup about $150 million, which is not a lot, but definitely a start.  The problems critics have with the new proposed Amnesty program is that only a fraction of eligible candidates took advantage of the program in 2012, and they also worry that such drastic cuts severely reduce the potential for revenue collection.  This concern seems empty though. Considering the amount of outstanding debt that exists, any remuneration would be better than none.

Enter California State Senator Bob Hertzberg from Van Nuys.  He’s proposing a companion program to Governor Brown’s proposed Traffic Amnesty Program.  Through his legislation, the Senator would reinstate suspended licenses attached to non-violent driving offenses once all debts had been collected and forgiven through the Amnesty program.

But, as neither program has been approved, drivers with suspended licenses (1 in 6 California drivers!) still have to settle all fines and fees before beginning the process to reinstate driving privileges.  This is a big deal not just for potentially eligible drivers to take advantage of, but for public safety – drivers with suspended licenses aren’t covered by insurance, which is a hazard for everyone on the road.  California will consider both programs later this year.

Tickets are a tricky business, and one that you don’t have to navigate alone.  Sometimes you might want to consult an attorney about your ticket, and that’s when you can call us!  From a ticket to a DUI, we’re available 24/7 to help you with your traffic issues and any other criminal matter.  Give us a call at (310) 477-2100.  At JKR Law, we’re here to help!

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