Understanding the Impact of Driver’s License Suspension: Lay Opinion in Impacted and Non-Impacted Populations
32 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2020
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, and awareness that even in petty cases, fines can impose unaffordable criminal debt affecting other important rights. Many jurisdictions suspend driving privileges for nonpayment of traffic fines or court nonappearance without linking to ability to pay, particularly in the United States where millions are impacted. To investigate the impact of such suspensions, we surveyed people in North Carolina (N=853), a state with large numbers of such suspensions. 18% of respondents have or have had a suspended license and we find both race and income predict suspension. We also find that such a suspension imposes difficulty on a variety of daily activities and reduces the ability to pay for housing. Thus, we find these suspension policies offer little benefit but impose great hardship for low-level offenses. The most straightforward policy change is to abolish suspension policies for non-safety reasons, as some states have done. However, other options exist – such as capping the length of suspensions, or the number of cumulative times a license can be suspended. Restoration efforts for those affected should be undertaken as well, but present unique challenges in contacting those affected and providing procedures to get their license back. Specifically, contacting suspended drivers is difficult because on-file addresses may not be current, and people who are suspended may be hesitant or unable to solve legal matters, such as failing to appear for court. As such, comprehensive local-level efforts, which we describe, are likely necessary to address the challenges and harms of driver’s license suspensions.
Keywords: Driver’s license suspension, traffic enforcement, misdemeanors, collateral consequences, inequality
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