Driven to Failure: An Empirical Analysis of Driver's License Suspension in North Carolina

51 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019 Last revised: 14 Mar 2020

See all articles by William Crozier

William Crozier

Duke University School of Law

Brandon L. Garrett

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: November 22, 2019

Abstract

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, forty-four U.S. states currently require indefinite suspension of driver’s licenses for non-driving-related reasons, such as failure to appear in court or pay fines for traffic infractions. There are no systematic, peer-reviewed analyses of individual-level and county-level data regarding such suspensions. This study describes the North Carolina population of suspended drivers and assesses how driver’s license suspension statutes operate relative to geography, race, and poverty. We analyze four decades of active suspension data in North Carolina, and find over 1,225,000 active suspensions for failures to appear for or pay traffic fines (amounting to one in seven adult drivers in the state). Second, we compare these data to: county population data; county-level police traffic stop data, collected as required by statute in North Carolina; and county-level data on volume and composition of traffic court dockets. We do not find that either driver’s license suspensions are associated with volume of traffic stops or traffic court docket size. In contrast, we find that Blacks and Latinx are overrepresented relative to the population. Linear mixed-level modeling regression analyses demonstrate that the population of whites below poverty, and blacks above poverty, are most strongly associated with more suspensions. Finally, we explore implications of these results for efforts to reconsider the imposition of driver’s license suspensions for non-driving-related reasons. These patterns raise constitutional concerns and practical challenges for policy efforts to undo such large-scale suspension of driving privileges.

Keywords: fines, fees, driver's license suspension, traffic offenses, collateral consequences

Suggested Citation

Crozier, William and Garrett, Brandon L., Driven to Failure: An Empirical Analysis of Driver's License Suspension in North Carolina (November 22, 2019). Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2019-60, Duke Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3440832 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3440832

William Crozier

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Brandon L. Garrett (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States
919-613-7090 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.brandonlgarrett.com/

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