The WIRE has previously looked at the negative impacts that driver’s license suspension and revocation has on low-income workers. A past WIRE blog post discussed the long road that one individual, Kelvin Anderson, faced in unsuccessfully trying to get his driver’s license back. Kelvin’s account illustrates the complexity of the driver’s license system and the excessive fees that are involved in reinstating a license following suspension or revocation. There are two main challenges that low-income individuals face when they have their licenses suspended or revoked. The first, mentioned above, is the complexity of the system and the excessive fees involved in reinstating a driver’s license following a suspension or revocation. The second challenge, addressed in this blog post, is the frequency of license suspensions for reasons unrelated to driving, called “social non-conformance” suspensions. Ultimately, driver’s license suspension and revocation have negative consequences for both the individuals that lose their licenses as well as the state.
In 2013, the AAMVA, a group that represents motor vehicle professionals, released the Best Practices Guide to Reducing Suspended Drivers. This guide analyzed the social and economic impacts that license suspension has on both individuals that lose their licenses as well as the state. As part of the study the AAMVA compared license suspension policies in eight different states that represented forty-three separate jurisdictions and 114,626 drivers with suspended licenses. They found that all of the jurisdictions had policies that resulted in license suspension despite not involving the use of a motor vehicle. For example, each of the 43 jurisdictions suspended licenses for failure to pay child support, 26 suspended the license of a minor for being in possession of alcohol, and nearly half suspended licenses due to a failure to pay a non-driving related ticket. ((Robert Eger III, “Enhanced Analysis of Suspended/Revoked Drivers Licenses Related to Crashes.” Florida State University. 2011.))
Illinois implemented policies that resulted in excessive license suspensions. In 2010, Illinois suspended 22,683 licenses for failure to pay child support, 6,525 for failing to pay for ten or more parking tickets, 3,820 for possession of alcohol by a non-driver, and 1,343 for failure to pay for five or more automatic traffic violations. ((Robert Eger III, 2011.))
Loss of a driver’s license has severe economic consequences, especially for low-income workers already living near the poverty line. A New Jersey study found that 42% of individuals lost their jobs following the suspension of their licenses. Of those that suffered a job loss, nearly half were unable to find a new job. Of those that were able to move into new employment the vast majority had to take a pay cut. ((Alan M Voorhees, Transportation Center, 2006.))
License suspensions not only have an impact on the drivers that lose their licenses, but also place a significant time and monetary burden on the government systems that must enforce and process such laws. Nationally, an average 75% of drivers with a suspended license continue to drive, and 43% of those drivers are ultimately caught driving without a valid license. A study conducted in Union County, Ohio found that it takes an average of nine hours to arrest and prosecute an individual caught driving without a license. Police officers spend an average of seven hours per arrest, corrections officers 30 minutes, prosecutors one hour, and a judge spends an average of 30 minutes hearing each case. This does not include the amount of time that Divisions of Motor Vehicles must spend processing each license suspensions and revocation and the repeated requests that they receive from drivers to have their licenses reinstated. This costs police departments and government systems a significant amount of time and money that could otherwise be spent on more important tasks like community safety.
Applying the county, state, and national averages previously mentioned to Illinois paints a grim picture for the state as we face significant budget constraints and programmatic cuts. Illinois saw a total of 35,194 suspensions for social non-conformance. If we assume that the national average of 75% of individuals continue to drive, and that 43% of them are caught driving without a license the state of Illinois spends an estimated 102,150.5 hours prosecuting individuals arrested for driving with a license that they had suspended due to a non-driving related incident.
The current approach to license suspensions is harmful for drivers and low-income workers, negatively impacts an already strained state budget, and does little if anything to improve the safety of those on the road. Illinois has an overburdened judicial system that is only further burdened through poorly designed license suspension policies and loses resources that could be more effectively spent in other key areas. During a time of increased income inequality and the continued high unemployment rate that disproportionately impacts low-income workers, policies should be enacted that do not put a strain on employment and allow these workers to continue to maintain a steady income.