Understanding the Impact of Driver’s License Suspension: Lay Opinion in Impacted and Non-Impacted Populations
38 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2020 Last revised: 24 Feb 2021
Date Written: July 7, 2020
The impact of low-level criminal enforcement on communities has been the subject of a growing body of scholarship and policy work. The result has been increased awareness that enforcement of minor offenses can impose unaffordable criminal debt and negatively affect other rights. Many jurisdictions suspend driving privileges for nonpayment of traffic fines or court nonappearance without considering an individual’s ability to pay. These practices affect millions of people in the United States. To investigate the impact of such suspensions, we surveyed people in North Carolina (N=853), a state with over 1.2 million such suspensions. Eighteen percent of respondents reported having had a suspended license, with race and low income predicting higher suspension rates, and increased difficulty for daily activities and ability to pay for housing. Thus, suspension policies are of questionable deterrence value and little public safety benefit, but impose real hardships. We suggest the simplest policy change is legislation barring suspension for non-safety reasons. We also discuss other more incremental options, as well as challenges in implementing restoration efforts for those affected. Comprehensive local-level efforts, which we describe, are likely necessary to address the challenges and harms associated with driver’s license suspensions.
Keywords: Driver’s license suspension, traffic enforcement, misdemeanors, collateral consequences, inequality
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