Summary: The policy of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines, court costs or other debts causes more harm than good. The Driving for Opportunity Act repeals existing provisions that use the suspension or revocation of driver’s licenses or motor vehicle registrations as a means of collecting debt.
Text is largely based on H.R.2453 (2021)
For more information, see Pew Public Safety Performance Project
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE
This Act shall be called the “Driving for Opportunity Act.”
SECTION 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSE
(A) FINDINGS—The legislature finds that:
1) Driving a vehicle is an essential aspect of the daily lives of most people in the United States.
2) In [State], thousands have had their driver’s licenses suspended for unpaid court fines and fees.
3) A person whose driver’s license is suspended or revoked for unpaid fines and fees will often find it more difficult to earn a living and therefore pay the debt owed to the government.
4) Suspending a license for unsafe driving conduct presents different considerations than suspending a license for unpaid fines and fees. Suspending a license for unsafe driving is an appropriate tool to protect public safety, however, most driver’s license suspensions are based on a tactic for debt collection, not on the need to protect public safety.
5) The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators has concluded the following: “Drivers who have been suspended for social non-conformance-related offenses are often trapped within the system. Some cannot afford to pay the original fines and may lose their ability to legally get to and from work as a result of the suspension. Many make the decision to drive while suspended. The suspension results in increased financial obligations through new requirements such as reinstatement fees, court costs, and other penalties. While there is a clear societal interest in keeping those who are unfit to drive off the roads, broadly restricting licenses for violations unrelated to an individual’s ability to drive safely may do more harm than good. This is especially true in areas of the country that lack alternative means of transportation. For those individuals, a valid driver license can be a means to survive. Local communities, employers, and employees all experience negative consequences as a result of social non-conformity suspensions, including unemployment, lower wages, fewer employment opportunities and hiring choices, and increased insurance costs.”
6) A report by the Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Policy Program concluded the following: “The suspension of a driver’s or professional license is one of the most pervasive poverty traps for poor people assessed a fine that they cannot afford to pay. The practice is widespread. Nearly 40 percent of license suspensions nationwide stem from unpaid fines, missed child support payments, and drug offenses—not from unsafe or intoxicated driving or failing to obtain automotive insurance. Suspension of a driver’s or professional licenses is hugely counterproductive; it punishes non-payment by taking away a person’s means for making a living. License suspension programs are also expensive for States to run and they distract law enforcement efforts from priorities related to public safety. License suspensions may also be unconstitutional if the license was suspended before the judge determined the defendant had the ability to pay the criminal justice debt.”
7) Over the past five years, at least 21 states have taken some action to curb debt-based driver’s license suspensions.
(B) PURPOSE—This law is enacted to protect the health and safety of all people in the state.
SECTION 3. POLICY AGAINST DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSIONS FOR DEBT
After section XXX, the following new section XXX shall be inserted:
The state and its localities shall not suspend, revoke or refuse to renew an individual’s driver’s license or motor vehicle owner’s registration based on that person’s failure to pay a civil or criminal fine or fee.
(B) PROVISIONS REPEALED
1) Section XXX is hereby repealed.
2) Section XXX is hereby repealed.
3) Section XXX is hereby repealed.
SECTION 4. EFFECTIVE DATE
This law shall become effective on July 1, 202X.