Fix-It Ticket

I recently was issued, and resolved, a “fix-it ticket” (equipment violation) for my car. I thought it might be worthwhile to share some of the things I discovered along the way. This is pretty CA-specific, of course.

The Stoppage

My ticket was actually issued for two separate infractions: no front license plate and tinted front windows. It’s worth mentioning that the car has been this way since I bought it used (at 8,000 miles) 6 years ago, and that no cop ever before looked at it twice.

On this particular occasion, I had the misfortune to be driving through downtown Mountain View as it was setting up for a street fair. The city had a bunch of motorcycle cops on pedestrian patrol, looking specifically for drivers who didn’t scrupulously obey CA’s pedestrian right-of-way laws, which require cars to stop for pedestrians in any uncontrolled crosswalk.

As it turns out, when MV cops are on on this duty they also look hard for equipment violations, and that was how I got ticketed. The irritating thing is that I’d actually made it past the spot where they were hiding once; they got me on the drive back. I’d seen them, so if I’d known what they were doing, and what they were looking for, I’d’ve taken another route.

So, maybe a helpful tip for you there.

The Fix

Both violations were easy to fix, and cost me only about $100 total. I went to a tint shop to get the windows sorted, and the dealership mounted up the front plate bracket during a 50K service. I wasn’t very happy about either change: The tint was actually quite nice in the CA sun, and not only does the front plate harm the aesthetics of the front bumper, but the bracket mounting actually required that holes be drilled in the car. Not the end of the world, but annoying.

CA legislators: Making my life worse. Thanks, guys.

The interesting thing here was that I later received a “reminder” notice in the mail that listed my options for resolving the ticket: fix it, go to court, or pay the fine. It appeared that if I paid around $360, the case would be closed. I wouldn’t have to fix the violations in that case — obviously I could be re-ticketed for them, but that didn’t appear to be a big risk. I don’t know if subsequent violations would result in higher fines, or if unfixed violations would interfere with vehicle registration, or appear as points on my license, and/or raise my insurance rates — if I hadn’t already resolved the issues, those are questions I would have looked into.

Given the choice, I’d rather pay a (probably one-time) $360 fine than alter my car undesirably and pay $150 (cost + court “fees”) for the privilege. If you get one of these tickets, it’s an option you might investigate.

The Signoff

The most irritating part of the whole (prescribed) process is the “signoff”. In CA, you have to get an Authority Figure to literally “sign off” (there’s a spot on the back of the ticket) on the violation correction(s). You’re usually told (by the motorcycle cop in my case) that you can get such a signoff at a police station. I have no reason to disbelieve this.

The problem is that I really dislike dealing with the police, and the idea of visiting a building stuffed with them is quite distasteful to me. Since it also appeared that the DMV could sign off on the ticket, I resolved to deal with them instead. This was a questionable decision.

I couldn’t find out how to make an appointment for a vehicle inspection, so I just went down to a DMV office. “How many people could be there at 2:30 on a Tuesday?”, I wondered. Ho, ho, ho. I ended up waiting in line for half an hour. I was then told that I just had to pull my car around to the inspection lane outside the building, which I could have done without waiting in line at all.

So, I drove into the lane, and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually a DMV guy came by (these are the same guys who administer the road tests for driver’s licenses) and … signed off on the license plate only. It turns out that DMV employees are only allowed to sign off on certain equipment violations, and that tinted windows aren’t on the list. (What is on the list, I couldn’t begin to tell you.)

The upside was that he was friendly and helpful enough, and recommended that I visit a courthouse a few blocks away where, supposedly, someone could help me. I figured I’d give it a try.

The Courthouse (I)

Courthouses now feature the same phony security-harassment that you see at airports. (It does not seem to me to comport with the dignity of a free man in a society of just laws authorized by the consent of the governed, but let’s pass over that for now.) At this particular courthouse, I noticed that the security checkpoint was manned by private security guards, not cops. Asked my business, I explained that I was looking for a police officer who could sign off on a ticket, and the guard said that he would call a deputy for me.

The deputy appeared, and signed off on the ticket. A decent enough guy, he turned out to be a once-retired cop (back, I suppose, for another go at the taxpayer) who was also a car guy. It turned out that he owned a Roush BlackJack Mustang. I didn’t ask if his windows were tinted.

Incidentally, the signoffs are simply scrawled semi-legibly on the back of the ticket; I didn’t notice any other record-keeping, and found the endorsements very hard to decipher. I’m skeptical as to the proposition that these signoffs are ever verified by the court.

I’m just saying.

The Courthouse (II)

Armed with my signoffs, I ventured to another courthouse to dispose of the ticket. The impact of security here was particularly Magrittesque, as large doors all around the building were festooned with signs reading: “This is not an entrance”. I circled the building until I discovered the security checkpoint, passed through, and found my way to the clerk’s offices.

Miraculously, there was almost no line here, and I handed over the ticket and paid my $50 “fee”. Any involvement with the court system sucks, though; the clerk’s office charged a $6.50 fee to process debit card transactions, the only place I’ve ever seen do so.

I paid cash.

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