John Oliver Explains How Speeding Tickets Can Ruin Lives
Although the announcement that Jon Stewart is leaving The Daily Show has gripped the country with fear and unease, the high-quality satire being pumped out by John Oliver and his staff on HBO’s Last Week Tonight should assuage some of our nation’s worries. After (hilariously) calling attention to our country’s crumbling infrastructure earlier this month, John Oliver took to the airwaves last night to highlight another issue that affects every American driver: the broken system that governs speeding tickets and traffic fines.
The segment concerns the “[NSFW word] barrel” of municipal fines in America, most of which are the result of speeding or other traffic violations. And while policing our roads is essential, the punishment for such offenses doesn’t always fit the crime. For example, a $35 fine for running a stop sign in California can, with the addition of various government fees and surcharges, turn into a $238 bill.
That cost probably seems exorbitant to most motorists, but it’s the poor ones who can have their lives potentially ruined as a result of that price gouging. If offenders can’t afford to pay their fine, they’ll be required to pay it in installments, plus interest. When private collection companies get involved, the amount owed becomes even more onerous, as violators have to pay both the collection company and the original fine, with failure to do so resulting in arrest.
And that’s how a grandmother named Harriet Cleveland, who was bled dry by a private collection company until she couldn’t pay them any more money, was thrown into jail over unpaid traffic violations, putting her into a modern-day debtor’s prison.
It’s an infuriating system, and Oliver deserves credit for managing to find the humor in it while also emphasizing the severity of the problem. Plus, he gets extra points for including a Back to the Future joke about the consequences of hitting 88 mph.