Last week, the California Judicial Council changed the rules for people with traffic tickets. Bail cost, which is often the amount of the fine, will no longer be required before drivers can protest traffic tickets.

The new rule will “… allow traffic infraction defendants to appear as promised for arraignment and trial without prior deposit of bail unless certain specified exceptions apply.” Traffic infractions are not punishable by imprisonment.

The courts “must notify defendants of this option in any instructions or other materials regarding bail provided by the court to the public.”

The purpose of the rule is to clarify that if a defendant declines to use a statutorily authorized alternative (such as posting bail and then simply forfeiting it as his fine by not appearing), courts must allow the defendant to appear as promised for arraignment and trial without prior deposit of bail, as specified in the rule.

The rule specifically applies to any traffic infraction violation of the Vehicle Code for which the defendant has received a written notice to appear.

While the rule is effective immediately, the state courts have until Sept. 15 to bring their forms, instructions and websites into compliance.

Several Vehicle Code sections prescribe traffic-specific arraignment and bail procedures that are entirely distinct from misdemeanor procedures for non-traffic offenses and are not changed by this new rule.

The council initiated its review in response to a request from Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye. After the council action, she said in a press release, “… this is an important first step to address an urgent access-to-justice issue. More work is ahead.”

A report on progress is due to the council on Aug. 20. The chief justice has a Futures Commission examining effective public access to California’s courts, including traffic proceedings.