Original reporting from KGO-TV (ABC7)
By Janet O
Several civil rights groups in the state, including ones in San Francisco, released a new report Wednesday blaming the state’s traffic court system for driving inequality and trapping people in a life of poverty.
The cost of traffic fines is steadily increasing and becoming tougher to manage for people like Robert Coney.
“You become this criminal all of sudden. All of a sudden you become public enemy number one,” Coney said.
Coney says he had three tickets he couldn’t afford to pay and his license was suspended as a result.
“If you have to do small payments, do small payments, but don’t take away driver’s license where they have to go to work,” Coney said. “We want to work. We want to fulfill things in life.”
Without a license, Coney says he hasn’t been able to work he’s not alone.
A new report published by Legal Aid and civil rights groups says California’s traffic court system is unfairly taking away people’s right to drive when there could be other forms of consequences that don’t directly affect their livelihoods.
“If you take away someone’s license because they haven’t paid their fine you’re essentially ensuring they’ll have such a hard time finding work they’ll never pay that fine,” said Meredith Desautels of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights.
The San Francisco-based legal center helped publish the report and has outlined suggestions for reform including giving out citations with fines based on income levels.
“We’ve worked on this for years because our clients come to us day in day out with no path forward,” Desautels said.
“I’m very frustrated,” Coney said. “I have family to take care of.”
Advocates say it’s a problem that affects the entire community because people who can’t drive often can’t work and end up relying on more social services, something Coney doesn’t want to do.