Driven to Failure: Analysis of Failure to Appear and Pay Drive's License Suspension Policy in North Carolina
43 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 21, 2019
Forty-one U.S. states currently require automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for non-driving-related reasons, such as failure to appear in court or pay fines for traffic infractions. However, there are no systematic, peer-reviewed analyses of individual-level and county-level data regarding such suspensions. Here, we review such data to describe the North Carolina population of suspended drivers and assess how driver’s license suspension statutes operate relative to race and poverty. We analyze four decades of active suspension data in North Carolina and find there are over 1,225,000 active suspensions for failures to appear for or pay traffic fines, with tens of thousands active for decades. Further, Blacks and Latinx are overrepresented relative to 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. While several states have ended the practice of indefinitely suspending drivers’ licenses for non-driving-related reasons legislatively or due to constitutional challenges, our findings suggest that ending or limiting license suspensions on paper is insufficient. The practice is too far reaching and large-scale; ending it does not ameliorate existing effects on millions of people. We describe a range of additional policy options. States can abolish suspensions for non-driving related reasons outright. States can adopt court procedural changes, such as ability to pay hearings before suspension. States may make suspensions temporary. However, even measures to reduce or eliminate new suspensions would not help the millions of people have already lost driving privileges. Local-level restorations programs to assist such drivers may be necessary. Thus, policy approaches will likely need to be multi-faceted, helping those who are currently suspended and preventing further suspensions, focusing on easing the financial burden of paying fines and fees.
Keywords: fines, fees, driver's license suspension, traffic offenses, collateral consequences
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