The longtime practice of arresting and jailing drivers who cannot afford to pay fines for minor traffic violations has come to an end in Nevada. The new state law which decriminalizes minor traffic violations went into effect on Jan. 1, making them civil infractions and ending the widespread practice of issuing warrants when an individual fails to pay their tickets.
Assembly Bill 116 was introduced by Nevada Sen. Rochelle Nguyen (D-Las Vegas) with seven primary sponsors.
“For over a decade, advocates and policy experts have fought to change this antiquated Nevada law,” Nguyen said. “Until now, residents unable to afford a traffic ticket for minor violations such as driving with a broken tail light could be arrested and even incarcerated. This has been costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year, while often costing those who are unable to pay, the loss of their jobs.”
A broad coalition of stakeholders lined up in support of AB 116, including the Fines and Fees Justice Center, Americans for Prosperity, Mi Familia Vota, and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, among many other agencies and organizations including the ACLU of Nevada, and Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice, who insists that warrants are a counterproductive and expensive method of coercing people to pay a traffic ticket.
As an example, in Clark County, the average person arrested on a traffic warrant spends almost three days in jail at a cost to taxpayers of over $400, according to the release.
“The harm to the individual and their family is even greater,” according to a news release. “Three days in jail often costs a person their job, their housing, and even their children, making it far more difficult to earn the money to pay their court debt or to care for themselves or their families.”
AB 116 builds on a successful model established in Carson City, which stopped issuing warrants in traffic cases in 2019.
Carson City’s collection rate increased by 8.5 percent following the implementation.
“Punishing people for traffic debt was never about safety because it’s a failed experiment in generating revenue,” said Leisa Moseley, Nevada State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “When people simply don’t have the money to pay, punishing them with arrest and jail just makes the problem even worse. Ending this counterproductive policy will help hard-working families take care of their basic needs and contribute to Nevada’s economy.”
Waste of tax dollars
Former Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia said he’s seen situations where people end up spending time in jail for what turns out to be minor traffic violations.
“It sounds like an awful waste of tax dollars,” he said. “If somebody who had a broken taillight, got pulled over and got a ticket but they didn’t pay the ticket and they get pulled over again, they have a warrant and now the county or the state has to house, feed and clothe them over over a broken taillight,”
Nevada is one of 13 U.S. states that prosecutes minor traffic violations as criminal offenses rather than as civil infractions.
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @pvtimes