Councilmember Silverman Introduces Bill to Protect Vulnerable Residents from License Suspensions

Earlier today, D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) introduced legislation to help low-income residents and working families with small, unpaid debts maintain their ability to live and work in the District. The Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017 would end the city’s current practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay debts as low as $100 from parking tickets, traffic tickets, or certain court judgments.

“A recent study showed that nearly half of the individuals who have their licenses revoked lose their jobs as a result. Not to mention those who need a car for critical errands, like caring for seniors or children, but are often forced to risk a felony charge for driving without a license just to see after their families,” said Silverman.

Existing District law allows the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend a person’s driver’s license for any unpaid government-issued ticket over $100, only reinstating the license once the bill is paid. This legislation aims to protect lower-income residents and working families who are not able to pay the ticket by setting income limits for license suspensions, reinstating licenses for eligible residents, and ending license suspensions as a tool for private debt collection.

Under the bill, residents earning less than $39,000 annually or participating in a subsidy program for residents with lower incomes would be exempted from having their licenses suspended by the DMV. Residents who have previously been convicted of driving with a suspended license would also be eligible to have their license reinstated if their license was initially revoked due to now-qualifying debts. Further, insurance companies would be prohibited from using license suspensions as a way to collect payments for automobile-related court judgements.

“Suspending a driver's license over relatively small debts makes repaying debts even harder,” Silverman said. “We should revoke the licenses of unsafe drivers and those who put others at risk, not those who simply cannot afford to pay.”

The bill makes no changes to the DMV’s ability to suspend licenses for legitimate reasons, such as dangerous driving or criminal convictions. It also keeps other incentives to pay debts in place, such as booting a car, withholding D.C. tax returns, or damages to credit history.

Co-introducers of the bill included At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray, and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White. At-Large Councilmember David Grosso was a co-sponsor. The bill was referred to the Committee on Transportation and the Environment.