Originally intended as a sanction to address poor driving behavior, driver’s license suspensions and revocations are now routinely used to criminalize the poor. They are frequently used as penalties for failure to pay court fees, regardless of whether the individual can afford to pay, as well as for a range of non-driving offenses such as graffiti, petty theft, and possession of small amounts of marijuana. Nearly two million of Florida’s more than 14 million driver’s licenses are suspended each year. Most of those suspensions– more than 1.3 million in Fiscal Year 2016-17 – are issued by clerks of court unrelated to any driving or traffic offense. Most originate from “failure to pay” offenses, actions that are unrelated to the individual’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
What's the Solution?
• Stop suspending driver's licenses for certain non-driving related offenses. Driver’s licenses should not be suspended for adults who are charged with offenses such as failure to pay court fees, drug-related offenses, or misdemeanor theft; or for minors charged with vandalism, truancy, or tobacco-related offenses. Doing away with these suspensions would likely increase these individuals’ ability to obtain and maintain employment and prevent further entanglement with the criminal justice system.
• Eliminate driver’s license suspension for individuals who simply cannot afford fines and fees. If, upon inquiry from the court, a person can demonstrate that he or she is unable to pay a court-sanctioned financial obligation, he or she should not be eligible for a license suspension. Instead, that person should be offered an alternative, such as a reasonable payment plan or community service. States including Mississippi and Tennessee are no longer revoking driver’s licenses for unpaid court fines.