Suspending driver’s licenses as a penalty for non-payment of fines and fees unrelated to public safety is a self-defeating policy. It intensifies pressure on individuals already struggling with job loss and financial hardship, and it adds strain to relations between police officers and the public they serve. It makes the slope of failure even more slippery for millions of the most vulnerable Americans. And it’s the law of the land in 42 states.
Incredibly, an estimated 11 million people nationwide are believed to have lost their driver’s licenses because of debts owed to or ordered by the government, often for offenses having nothing to do with motor vehicle safety, such as minor drug offenses or missed payments for child support — not for unsafe or drunken driving. That’s roughly 1 in every 20 drivers, a cohort tilted heavily toward people of color. For those whose licenses are suspended, the effect is to set a poverty trap while doing nothing to enhance public safety.