Driver's License Suspension in North Carolina
30 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2019
Date Written: March 19, 2019
In this Article, we analyze data concerning driver's license suspension for traffic offenses. The interest of a person in a driver’s license is “substantial,” and the suspension of a license by the state can result in “inconvenience and economic hardship suffered,” as the U.S. Supreme Court has observed, including because a license may “essential in the pursuit of a livelihood.” However, in this analysis of North Carolina data, we found that there are 1,225,000 active driver’s licenses suspensions in North Carolina for non-driving related reasons, relating to failure to pay traffic fines and court courts, and failure to appear in court for traffic offenses. These suspensions constitute about 15% of all adult drivers in the state. Of those, 827,000 are for failure to appear in court, 263,000 for failure to comply with orders to pay traffic costs, fines, and fees, and 135,000 for both. These suspensions are disproportionately imposed on minority residents. Of those with driver’s license suspensions, 33% of those with failure to appear suspensions are black and 24% Latinx, while 35% were white. The demographics for all North Carolina residents who are of driving age include: 65% white, 21% black, and 8% Latinx. Still more severe consequences, DWLR charges, also disproportionately fall on minority residents. We also conducted a series of mixed-model linear regressions on North Carolina driver’s license suspensions from 2010-2017, analyzing the effects of race, poverty, population size, traffic court cases and traffic stops on suspensions per county. Overall, population accounts for most of the variation in suspensions: the more people in the county, the more people have suspended licenses. When we control for population, we see little evidence that traffic stops or traffic cases are driving suspensions. We find that the relationship between the number of people in poverty and the number of suspensions in a county is dependent on race. Put another way, increasing a county’s population by one white individual below poverty increases the number of suspensions by a greater amount than increasing the county’s population by one white above poverty. However, increasing the population by one black individual below poverty increases the number of suspensions by less than increasing the county population by one black individual above poverty. This suggests that poverty functions differently for whites than it does for blacks. We conclude by setting out questions for future research, and describing both law and policy responses to driver’s license suspensions in other jurisdictions, including: constitutional challenges, restoration efforts, dismissals of charges, and legislative efforts to restore licenses and end the suspension of driver’s licenses for non-driving related traffic offenses.
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