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Fine, Schmine

$1.38 billion sounds like a lot of money to me, but apparently it's sofa-cushion change for one prominent Wall Street firm.

Standard & Poor's recently settled a lawsuit with the federal government, 19 states and the District of Columbia. Court papers alleged that S&P knowingly overrated "toxic" mortgages, triggering the financial crisis and subsequent Great Recession. As part of the terms, S&P admitted wrongdoing and also agreed to retract its earlier statement that the Attorney General brought the suit in retaliation for a 2011 credit downgrade.

The $1.38 billion is only a fraction of the $5 billion the Justice Department initially demanded. Janet Tavakoli, a former investment banker, commented that the settlement "didn't fix anything" because it was "just a traffic ticket."

What Ms. Tavakoli meant is that the settlement failed to address the underlying problems. A speeding ticket in Fresno is much the same. The tickets don't make the drivers set their alarm clocks a half-hour earlier, find shortcuts to work, stop for gas before they are in a hurry or change any of the other bad driving habits that caused them to get the tickets in the first place.

One recent study found that drivers who received a speeding ticket are twice as likely to receive another one within a few months. The researchers bluntly concluded that "speeding citations have limited effects on deterrence."

The same study indicated that PBJ may be the answer. That's Probation Before Judgment, and not peanut butter and jelly. "Increasing drivers' perceptions that they are at risk of being caught speeding may improve the effectiveness of speeding law enforcement." In other words, if you think you may get a ticket you'll change your driving habits.

An attorney regularly practicing in Bakersfield may be able to convince the court to put you in a pretrial diversion plan: the case is dismissed after you pay a small fine if you get no other violations within a few weeks or months. That's win-win-win. You pay less money and are assessed no points, the state gets some revenue and your fellow drivers are safer.

Mark Bigger is committed to giving individuals a voice when dealing with speeding and traffic tickets.