Traffic Tickets Stopped My Life for Six Years

Daniel Zapien was 20 years old when he first lost his drivers license. After two tickets, it took him more than six years and $5,000 dollars to be able to hold this card once again. He was in what California Governor Brown calls a "hellhole of desperation." A new bill, Senate Bill 405, was recently proposed for stories like his.

Getting my license back was an ordeal that took more than six years and nearly $5,000 dollars. I thought my situation was unique, but my story is one of the many tales from the four million Californians who currently have their license suspended, due to similar court fines.

Recently, Senator Bob Hertzberg proposed Senate Bill 405 for states to create amnesty programs for drivers who got stuck in fines like me, and would allow folks with suspended licenses to keep their driving privileges if they agreed to pay reduced fines on a sliding scale. His reasoning is exactly what anyone in this situation would call it, "a Catch 22 that traps people in a cycle of poverty.”

It just seems like these courts don't have better things to worry about than someone who is already struggling in a place where I'm considered below poverty. I would honestly be on the streets if it wasn't for the help of my family. When my license was first taken, I was 20 years old, didn't have a job, and was doing odd jobs while attending community college.

Here’s a timeline of how I lost my license for six years from two tickets:

December 2010: I made a big mistake parking in a Disabled Parking space because I was in so much pain and needed medicine after I got my tattoo done. There were no parking spaces available and I thought I would be super quick. I recieved my first ticket from a cop who waited as I came out of the drug store. He said I would recieve a letter to appear in court.

A couple of months later: Had to sell my car to pay bills and never received a letter from the courts about the ticket.

A couple more months later: License suspended without my knowledge.

A couple years later: A debt collector calls for $1700 dollars for that first ticket and wants $350 dollars up front. But I can't pay it, I don't have a job.

1 year later: I finally got a job and start to pay the $1700 dollars to the debt collector little by little.

August 2012: Finally locked down a better paying job that paid off the $1700 dollar ticket fully.

January 2013: Hallelujah! Courts say I can get my license back! I go to the DMV to get my license back. They said I have another ticket for $1400 dollars that I never had any knowledge of.

So I can't get my license back.

And I have to go back to court.

I ask for a restricted license so that I can go back and forth to work.

It was, DENIED.

By this time, I told the judge I couldn’t afford to pay the ticket and asked if there was another way to get my license. They didn’t explain how I could get my license back. So, I wasn't going to give in to these bullies and I knew I had a suspended license but continued to drive. I needed to work to pay my other bills - and the bus didn’t run during the hours I worked.

May, 2013: I got pulled over and my car was impounded. Lucky for me, I had just gotten paid, so I had the $500 dollars to go and get my car out of the impound.

After that, I had no more money.

The tags on my car were not updated because I was always working during the week, so I could not go into the DMV.

Life was unfortunately back to "normal" again, "normal" as in not good.

July, 2013: I was working at one of my construction sites, a meter maid drove by and noticed my car. They called the police. I didn't know you needed a permit to park in this location. The officers came and they asked for license and registration. And eventually they towed my car. My boss came back, saw my car being towed right in front of the job site.The officer said that the car needed a permit and that I did not have a license so they had to tow the car. My boss asked if there was any way they can overlook this so I could have time to fix the situation.The cop shrugged and said it was out of his hands.

In the late months of 2013: I was done with all the BS.  My construction job was over, cops kept messing with me. I didn't care to have my license back. I did'nt care about getting the registration tags fixed. I let the car go. I literally used it as a hoopty to roll around the city with my folks. And one fateful day the car broke down. I ended up selling it to the Pick ‘n Pull.

Throughout that whole period, I just had this claustrophobic feeling, being suffocated by the debt. Debt collectors called me on the daily.

December 2014: At of age 25, I finally ended up having enough money to get my license back.  I was so stoked as I went into the DMV and took the last of the tests I needed to get my license back. It was the easiest written test I have ever taken my entire life. After they scored me, and said I passed the test, I was told to go and take my photo. As I walked to the photo guy, he told me to stand in place as he took my photo. I looked at the guy taking my photo, cheesing extra large. A feeling of being unstoppable raised its existence in my body as I was told "Your license will be coming in the mail the next three weeks, but here is the paper of it for now." I literally wanted to drive and couldn’t wait for a moment when someone would ask me for my license, in my head I had prepared what I would say, "Bam!!!! Read it and weep.”

The lessons I learned are not to take what you have for granted, and to keep yourself updated whenever the court is involved in your life. After this incident I started to save money for just in case incidents like this. I wish third party debt collectors were out the mix because they cause so many headaches, stress, and confusion. I recognize that it’s expensive to have a car. I’m excited that the Senate Bill 405 was proposed. The courts needed to have alternatives for those who can’t afford to get their license back, whether it’s community service or a grace period to save up to start a payment plan. Because as you can see, it’s much more complicated than when a judge says, “just pay your tickets.”

About Daniel Zapien

Daniel Zapien is a San Jose native photojournalist who has worked for DeBug for over 5 years. He runs the youth editorials teaching how to tell your story through writing and documentary stroytelling through video and photography.

This article is part of the categories: Community  / Law & Justice  / Magazine  / Story  / Technology 
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Well written story Daniel. A very practical life story works to help many people. Thats awesome...Good luck on Driving...

Driving priviledges are token advantage by most municipalities. If your going to drive one way or another people will end up paying much more then what they expect. Parking, tickets...Its a gimmick, Its a hustle that every state in the country operate. It means millions of dollars of revenue at the end of the year.

It Mexico. You just pay $25 for a ticket on the spot....In some ways Legal taxation is simply a heist. Police officers awaiting for people to commit speeding crimes just does not seem right to me.

This is really too bad. We all make silly mistakes but, I agree with Hector driving is a complete gimmick. I could never afford to go without a job like most people in San Jose. I work locally so that I can ride a bicycle to work and so that I don't have to rely on a vehicle. Telling your story though may have helped to educate those in the community who may be stuck in a similar situation and warn them to take the responsibility upon themselves of a ticket instead of waiting for something in the mail so that things don't spiral out of control.

I`m living your story now. 3 days before thanksgiving i got pulled over for going too slow then the cop tells me my license is suspended since 2013. I told them I'd got my license back in February this year. Long story short... impounded my truck which was my home and livelihood for me and my disabled german sheapard. Im homeless, unemployed and parcialy disabled. I make money by recycling cans and bottles. I didn't know my license was suspended as i was stopped 2 days earlier and all was good. 30 day impound $200 tow fee $50 a day storage fee $200 release fee from the police $700 plus for the ticket $50 to dmv to reinstate my license and $1550 to pay off fine that suspended my license. And till the $1500 is paid i cant get my license back. If i was lucky I'd make $30 to 4o a day recycling and my only other income is $194 a month on a ebt dog and i are out in the cold and on foot. Last nite it was 35degrees. We have no money nor the means to make any i cant even make the payments now. Im pretty much screwed. Whats next for me i haven't a clue

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