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Question of the Month ~ September 2017


Q. Do any states in the Midwest prohibit suspensions of driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines or fees? 

In 2013, the Washington State Legislature authorized a civil collection process for unpaid traffic fines, which replaced a requirement that the state suspend a person’s driver’s license for failure to pay a traffic violation.
Under similar legislation enacted in California this year (AB 103), county or court collection programs may not initiate a driver’s license suspension due to failure to pay a fine or penalty, except in the case that an individual fails to appear at a hearing. In addition, the law repealed the authority of the court to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of a person’s failure to pay a fine or bail, with respect to various violations relating to vehicles, thus removing the requirement for the department to suspend a person’s driver’s license upon receipt of that notice.
In the Midwest, a Nebraska law (LB 259) enacted this year allows residents to request a hearing if they believe they do not have the financial ability to pay for a traffic ticket. The courts may then vacate the fine, or allow the person to enter into a payment plan or complete community service instead of paying the cost in full. Previously, the state Department of Motor Vehicles was required to suspend the operator’s license of anyone who failed to pay a citation.
This year, Illinois lawmakers introduced, but did not pass, legislation (SB 1614) that would have prohibited the suspension or cancellation of driver’s licenses due to the failure to pay fines or penalties related to violations of vehicle standing, parking and compliance regulations, and road tolls. It would also have required the secretary of state to reinstate driver’s licenses that had previously been suspended or cancelled due to a failure-to-pay.
There have also been a number of recent court challenges against states that suspend driver’s licenses under failure-to-pay policies. In May, plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit in a federal court in Michigan that argues the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid court fees is unconstitutional because of its disproportionate impact on low-income residents. Similar lawsuits were filed this year in Virginia and Tennessee and were still in litigation at the time of publication.
A 2013 report by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators recommended that legislatures repeal laws requiring the suspension of driving privileges for violations not related to highway safety. The report argued that suspending licenses for non-traffic violations, such as bounced checks and vandalism, creates an undue burden on departments of motor vehicles, law enforcement, the courts and society as a whole.


Article written by Katelyn Tye, CSG Midwest senior policy analyst. Question of the Month highlights a research inquiry received by CSG Midwest.