The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials voiced support for the Driving for Opportunity Act of 2021, introduced on March 25, which would end suspensions and restrictions of driver’s licenses for unpaid court fines and fees.
“Suspending licenses limits people’s ability to access work, groceries, education and health care services but it does not increase safety, and AASHTO and state DOTs believe our focus should always be on safety,” noted Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director, in a letter co-sponsored by 40 other organizations to Congressional leadership.
The Driving for Opportunity Act of 2021, introduced by Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., helps states end what many in law enforcement consider a “counterproductive practice” – suspending driver’s licenses simply because a person cannot satisfy a financial obligation – while also enacting smart, data-driven policy on fines, fees, and driving license privileges.
“Across the country, millions of people have their driver’s licenses suspended for reasons that are unrelated to highway or public safety—usually unpaid fines and fees,” noted Patrick Yoes, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, in that letter.
“Forcing officers to arrest a person for driving with a suspended license due to unpaid fees is a waste of valuable law enforcement time and resources,” he explained. “This bill will help those in difficult circumstances and free law enforcement to focus on protecting our communities.”
The proposed bill noted that “debt-based suspension” is a means through which governments try to compel payment.
Asa result, the system is inherently faulty, the letter stressed: someone who cannot drive will likely have a difficult time securing transportation to work, making debt repayment even more difficult or impossible – which is why suspensions and revocations of driver’s licenses for non-driving related conduct may harm public safety.
The Driving for Opportunity Act of 2021 also authorizes federal funding to cover the costs of reinstating driver’s licenses in states that chose to end debt-based driver’s license suspensions, because states that have made the responsible evidence-based policy decision to reinstate licenses may face a financial burden.
“For too long, debt-based driver’s license suspensions have been portrayed as a way to improve traffic safety. But it is clear that the current system is actually a counterproductive practice that undercuts true traffic safety benefits and disproportionately harms low-income people and communities of color,” added Leah Shahum, founder and director of Vision Zero Network.
“Suspending people’s unpaid court debts does not align with Vision Zero’s goal of safe mobility for all people using our roads, sidewalks and bikeways,” she added. “It is time to end counterproductive enforcement and collections practices that serve no proven public safety purpose, while crippling those who are struggling with poverty.”