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Suspending driver’s license for nonpayment of a fine does not increase highway safety.

On Behalf of | Dec 23, 2017 | Firm News

I have previously addressed the how failure to pay fine systems are in reality the creation of a traffic debtor prison for traffic violations.

A person’s driver’s license can be suspended not just for traffic offenses but for all kinds of other reasons totally unrelated to driving on the highway.  For instance, falling behind on child support, getting caught with drugs, bouncing checks; or minor juvenile offenses like missing school, using false identification to buy alcohol, or shoplifting.  What was originally intended as a sanction to address poor driving behavior is now used as a mechanism to raise revenue for the State. “Across the country, at any given time, approximately seven percent of drivers are suspended. In 2002, drivers suspended for social non-conformance reasons represented 29 percent of all suspended drivers. By 2006, this group represented 39 percent of all suspended drivers. Drivers are now commonly suspended for reasons such as bounced checks, fuel theft, truancy, vandalism and many more.”  “Best Practices Guide to Reducing Suspended Drivers”  infra., at 2.  Increasingly, people who study driver safety say this makes little sense.  In fact, a 2013 a study by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators entitled “Best Practices Guide to Reducing Suspended Drivers” recommended that “legislatures repeal laws requiring the suspension of driving privileges for non-highway safety related violations.”

Chief John Batiste of the Washington State Patrol provided his expert opinion, “A roadside encounter with a suspended driver is a time consuming endeavor for officers. Drivers suspended for non-driving reasons represent 39% of all suspended drivers, and are not the threat to the motoring public as other suspended drivers. Reducing law enforcement roadside encounters with suspended drivers by up to 39% would result in significant time savings allowing officers to be available for calls for service and other proactive highway safety activities.”  Eliminating 39 percent of suspended drivers will result in fewer citations for driving while under suspension and partially alleviate clogged court dockets. Individuals whose offense is unrelated to highway safety will retain their driving privileges, their ability to earn a living, and their ability to contribute to the economy.

However, that same report goes on to detail how “[w]hen a law enforcement officer encounters a suspended driver, their ability to help ensure the safety of drivers on the roadways and their availability to respond to calls for service are reduced. The officer must take appropriate action for the violation and later appear in court for adjudication of the ticket(s). While the officer is in court, there may be little or no enforcement presence in their patrol area. Officers are made unavailable for 911 responses, crash investigation, criminal interdiction, and other enforcement activities, potentially increasing the threat to public safety

Simply put, using license suspension for non-moving violations enforcement is not a good idea. This idea of holding a driving privilege only causes recidivism and keeps the offender from digging out of the Suspension Snowball.  Plus, it takes away valuable law enforcement time from more serious offenses.