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Minnesota should end driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay traffic tickets

Stripping an individual of their driver’s license makes it substantially more difficult for that person to travel to work, earn a living, attend school, or go to a job interview.

Minnesota has a tremendous opportunity to end the unwise and unnecessary practice of suspending an individual’s driver’s license because of an unpaid traffic ticket. House File 1061/Senate File 1376 has bipartisan authors and support. If enacted, more than 50,000 Minnesotans would have their driver’s licenses restored, and tens of thousands of people per year will avoid a license suspension.

HF 1061 doesn’t change driver’s license suspensions for dangerous driving violations, such as DUI or reckless driving. It also leaves in place the collections process for all unpaid traffic tickets, so people are held accountable for the cost of their ticket. But it allows people with no violations other than unpaid traffic tickets to continue driving legally while they pay off their debt to the court.

In 2017, the Minneapolis City Attorney’s office handled 855 cases involving driving-after-suspension cases. And 527 cases were referred to a diversion program that helps individuals have their driver’s license reinstated if it was suspended due to unpaid citations.

Significant consequences

When states take away driver’s licenses for an offense unrelated to dangerous driving, it neither enhances nor contributes to public safety. In fact, stripping an individual of their driver’s license makes it substantially more difficult for that person to travel to work, earn a living, attend school, or go to a job interview. It provides an additional hurdle for someone trying to pay an outstanding traffic-related fee.

Here’s a real-life example of how an unpaid ticket can snowball into a significant problem, when there are better ways to handle the situation. In 2014, Leah Jackson from Otsego was ticketed for obstructing traffic after waiting in an intersection as the light turned red, trying to make a left turn. She had just started a new job and hadn’t received a paycheck yet, so she put off paying the $135 ticket.

A few months later, Jackson was pulled over, told her driver’s license was suspended for an unpaid ticket, and cited for driving on a suspended license – a new $287 ticket. Her job responsibilities as a retail store manager required her to make bank runs and other deliveries, so she kept driving in order to keep her job. Within a few weeks, she received two more tickets for driving after suspension, and her ticket debt now totaled nearly $1000. Jackson used her tax refund to pay the tickets and thought the worst was over – but it wasn’t.

Ronald J. Lampard
Ronald J. Lampard
Many auto insurance companies treat a driving after suspension harshly, so the cheapest insurance she could find was $650 per month. Now, more than four years later, Jackson estimates that the increased insurance costs, in addition to the traffic fines, bring her total expense from that first traffic ticket to over $16,000. Under the new legislation, an unpaid traffic ticket would accrue late fees and be sent to collections, but wouldn’t trigger a driver’s license suspension, so someone in Jackson’s position could continue driving legally while they paid off the cost of their ticket.

HF 1061 is consistent with several principles outlined in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model Resolution in Support of Limiting Driver’s License Suspensions to Violations that Involve Dangerous Driving and would relieve Minnesotans from having their driver’s license suspended for reasons that do not contribute to improving public safety.

Several states have taken on this issue and examples of this positive trend can be found throughout the U.S. Last year, both Maine and Michigan enacted legislation that prevented the suspension of a driver’s license if the individual is unable to pay his or her court debt.

More states considering legislation

This year more states are considering changing their laws on driver’s license suspensions. Legislation introduced in Montana and New Jersey would limit the use of driver’s license suspensions in certain instances where the underlying offense does not involve dangerous driving.

States are recognizing that driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay fines inhibit individuals from being productive members of society. This trend is likely to continue as states make improvements to their laws on fines and fees and recognize that driver’s license suspensions should be reserved for offenses related to dangerous driving.

Minnesota’s proposed solution shows that in a time of polarized politics and partisanship, both sides can work toward a common goal of better policy outcomes for all Minnesotans.

Ronald J. Lampard is the Criminal Justice Task Force Director at ALEC Action, the 501c4 affiliate of the American Legislative Exchange Council.


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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Roshay Riggs on 05/03/2019 - 08:18 pm.

    I had the same happen to me. I actually lost my license at 16 due to a seatbelt ticket .I couldn’t afford!I had my license suspended the same pulled over and a ticket for driving on a revoked license and lost my job as an auto detailer since I could not move the vehicle’s into my cleaning bay anymore or take them for gas..I had no way to work anymore anyway but then it snowballed to getting pulled over going to job interviews and going to work then I had a kid and really had no way of paying the extremely high debt and now 8 years later and about 5k later I have finally managed to pay off all my fines and im working towards a work permit as they are keeping my license 2 years from my last offense even if I had paid everything the day after the traffic stop…

  2. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/04/2019 - 08:10 am.

    Good idea. How do you expect people to pay off their tickets if they lose their job? At the time of license renewal, as well as checking for insurance, why not require at least a portion if the pending tickets to be paid off? As this happens every five years, that provides more time to take care of business.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/04/2019 - 12:08 pm.

    Is this related to the revocation of professional licences for failure to pay child support?

  4. Submitted by Kamille Cheese on 05/04/2019 - 12:23 pm.

    This has been a long time coming. What starts as a mole hill turns into a mountain. No one intends to get tickets, but when it happens, some budgets can’t survive the surprise. Payment plans should available.

  5. Submitted by Jim Marshal on 05/05/2019 - 11:24 am.

    Another thing not mentioned are all of the additional revenue generating fees that cities and counties tack on to these tickets which can easily turn what should be a $100 ticket into a $250 expense.

  6. Submitted by Kent Fralish on 05/06/2019 - 08:58 am.

    I’ve been told (by law enforcement) that driving is a privilege, not a right.
    Abuse the privilege, loose the privilege.
    Freedom requires personal responsibility, apparently.

  7. Submitted by Brian MARQUARDT on 06/08/2019 - 03:59 am.

    I had the snowball effect years ago which resulted in driving after suspensions, then 13 driving after revocation and 14 no insurances. I had my fines close to being paid off but had 4 driving after revocation still pending in court. 2 in one county and 2 in another. The first county gave me a public defender for each case. I was close to being legal my only option was to tell them i wanted a full jury trial with 2 Supreme Court justices as my witness because freedom of travel is my constitutional right. One of the lawyers said he would be right back. Ten minutes later he came and said if i pay his fee and the other lawyers fee the county would forget it ever happened. I plead guilty to a no insurance ticket in the other county and they dropped the other tickets. I still paid a lot of fines and now i won’t speed unless i can pay the ticket. They need to abandon this plan or soon they will be letting people who owe child support keep their license. Then when that person doesn’t have a incentive to pay support to help offset the money the state is paying to help the single parent with food, housing, medical. Etc etc etc. we will have our taxes raised. Watch.

  8. Submitted by Rhonda Enns on 09/16/2019 - 05:34 pm.

    About 3 yrs ago I was helping my ex move from my place by driving him in his vehicle cause he was suspended at this time I had a valid licence. We were few blocks away from my place and I was pulled over (they assumed he was driving and wanted to catch him) when they asked for insurance he didnt have it wi th him he said so the officer wrote a ticket for no proof of insurance I took it and put it in the console. I stopped at the gas station and he went in I looked at his ticket and was shocked when I seen it was issued to me. He told me hed send them proof and then they would disregard the ticket. Few days before the court date for failure to produce it I called and he never sent it. At the time of the incident I was not working due to a kilian tendon cut while I was working and I had no car. He refused to show the insurance I had no money to pay the ticket so I asked if hed bring me to court and I was told no. The morning of court o emailed the judge secretary explaining all this to her. It didnt matter they suspended my license anyways. I do construction for a living . The contractor I drove for didntt have a licence so while I’m trying to work I e been pulled over in his vehicle cause they rear plate and it came up suspended. Then I’m issued no insurance and driving suspended The contractor who hired me ended up in jail from past criminal stuff I did not know he had I only knew him from answering a job be posted. I continued to work the jobs and continued to get pilled over. I cannot prove insurance cause last I heard he was released but on the run. I tried filing a work permit I was told the dmv didnt take it the counties did so they coukdnt help me. I signed up for the division program but was told they coukdnt help me cause the counties my tickets were in didnt participate how can they take it but not participate especially when that would get them there money. Last I emailed a senator and never got a respond back. I have over 3 grand in tickets now and I’ve tried everything I know with resources. I have to work.. This has become a nightmare and the fear I have every time I need to drive to get to work is mentally exhausted me. I’m at a loss on what to do.

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