How Traffic Ticket Fines are Calculated in California

Base fines, fees, and penalty assessments: How they add up to the total you pay on a traffic violation.

When you look up a traffic infraction in the California Vehicle Code, there’s usually a fine amount specified for a violation. The listed amount is called the “base fine.” For instance, the base fine for a distracted driving (cellphone) ticket is $20 for a first offense. But if you’re convicted of a cellphone violation, you might end up paying $150 or more. What’s the deal? Why is it so expensive?

The base fine is just a portion of the overall cost of a traffic citation. The majority of what you pay comes from fees and “penalty assessments” that are added to the base fine.

State-Mandated Fees and Assessments

The State requires counties to tack on certain fees and assessments to all traffic fines. For example, counties must add a “state penalty” of $10 per every $10 (or part thereof) of base fine. And the State requires all motorists to pay an additional $5 per every $10 of base fine to the state DNA Identification Fund. These two assessments alone more than double the amount of your fine, and there are still several other hefty state-mandated fees that contribute to the total.

Optional Fees and Assessments

In addition to the mandatory fines and assessments, state law gives counties the option of adding even more fees to traffic tickets. For instance, counties are allowed to impose additional fees to help fund construction of new courthouses and jails. Some counties choose to impose lots of optional fees, whereas others impose few or none. This variation is why traffic ticket costs differ from county to county.

What the Total Fines Might Look Like

The following chart is loosely based on how traffic fines are calculated in one California county. Just remember—every county does it differently. So amounts will vary depending on where you receive your ticket. A judge might also have some leeway to lower fine.

Base Fine

Fees and Penalties Assessments

Total You’ll Pay

$20

$158

$178

$35

$202

$237

$50

$245

$295

$75

$318

$393

$100

$390

$490

$125

$463

$588

$150

$535

$685

$175

$608

$783

$200

$680

$880

$250

$825

$1075

$300

$970

$1270

Talk to an Attorney

If you’ve been stopped for a moving violation, talk to a traffic attorney in your area. A qualified attorney can explain the consequences you’re facing and help you decide on how best to handle your ticket.

 

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