Silverman Bill Ending License Suspensions for Unpaid Tickets Passes Unanimously

A bill ending automatic license suspensions for low-income residents who fail to pay debt from parking tickets or traffic tickets passed unanimously on second reading at this past Tuesday’s legislative session, the last before the D.C. Council heads into summer recess. The Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017, originally introduced by Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) last December, was one of five bills incorporated into the Traffic and Parking Ticket Penalty Amendment Act of 2018 to reform the way the District processes and settles unresolved ticket debt.

“Suspending the licenses of low-income residents for inability to pay tickets ends up punishing people for being poor,” said Silverman. “Nearly half of all license suspensions lead to job loss, which makes it even harder to pay debt that made you lose your driving privileges in the first place.”

A recent Rutgers University study found that 42 percent of survey respondents whose licenses were suspended lost their jobs as a result. Of those, 45 percent could not find another job. For those who did find another job, 88 percent had a lower income.

Currently, anyone with a District driver’s license can have their license suspended for any unpaid tickets over $100, with the suspension lasting until the debt is paid. If a person is convicted of driving with a suspended license, there is also no opportunity for a license to be reissued. Under the new legislation, residents can now have their license reinstated if it was originally suspended because of unpaid ticket debt.

All residents now qualify for exemptions from having their licenses suspended because of unpaid ticket debt. However, individuals could still have their licenses suspended for other reasons, including dangerous driving or criminal conviction. Incentives to pay debt, such as booting of a car, withholding of D.C. tax returns and credit impairment, also remain unchanged.

“We should suspend the licenses of unsafe drivers and those who put others at risk, not those who simply can’t afford to pay,” Silverman said.

This fall, the Council will consider a second measure from Silverman’s Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017 to end license suspension as a tool to collect private debt.