Driving on Empty: Report Reveals 2 Million Florida Driver’s Licenses Suspended for Unpaid Fines and Fees

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. The Fines and Fees Justice Center (FFJC) released a comprehensive report on Florida’s driver’s license suspension practices today: Driving on Empty, Florida’s Counterproductive and Costly Driver’s License Suspension Practices. The report’s findings are significant and troubling. Driver’s license suspensions undermine public safety, stifle Florida’s economy, impede successful re-entry, and condemn low-income Floridians to a cycle of poverty and punishment few can escape.   

The report reveals that 72 percent of driver’s license suspension notices are for unpaid fines and fees, while fewer than 4 percent of driver’s license suspensions are solely for dangerous driving or public safety reasons. Key findings include:

  • Two million Floridians cannot legally drive due to unpaid fines and fees.
  • In 2017, law enforcement issued over 232,000 citations for driving with a suspended license–over five times as many citations as were issued for Driving Under the Influence.
  • Almost half of people whose driver’s licenses are suspended lose their jobs because they can no longer reliably drive to work.
  • Suspension rates are highest in areas with larger proportions of minorities and low-income families.

Florida businesses are also harmed by this counterproductive policy. Businesses across the state rely on employees to dependably get to work every day and many jobs require driving. As Floridians lose their jobs due to driver’s license suspensions, employers must pay to hire and train new employees to replace the ones they lost. The total cost of losing an employee can range from tens of thousands of dollars to twice  their annual salary–which is crippling to businesses and hurts Florida’s economy. 

What we found was astonishing – between 2015-2017, over 3.5 million driver’s license suspension notices were issued for unpaid court debt,” said Ashley Thomas, Florida State Director for FFJC. “Once suspended, years can go by before a person is able to afford to reinstate their license. If people can’t drive to get to work or lose their job because they lost their license, how are they ever going to earn the money needed to pay their fines and fees? Florida’s practice of suspending a person’s driver’s license is counterproductive and needs to end.” 

FFJC Co-Director Lisa Foster noted that “millions of Floridians have a suspended license, not because they are dangerous drivers, but because they are poor. Without a driver’s license, people can no longer be self-sufficient and cannot reliably get to work, take their children to school, or keep a medical appointment. Losing a driver’s license can trigger years of financial hardship and a cycle of poverty and punishment few can escape.” 

The Fines and Fees Justice Center report is part of the organization’s sustained effort to reform harmful fines and fees practices statewide and end driver’s license suspension for unpaid debt. 

For more information, visit:

If you have experienced hardships as a result of having your driver’s license suspended for unpaid fines and fees for criminal or traffic cases, please fill out the FFJC Questionnaire HERE.

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FFJC serves as a hub for the fines and fees reform movement, working with impacted communities, researchers, advocates, legislators, justice system stakeholders, and media all across America. We provide resources, make critical connections, and offer strategic advice. We currently have active state campaigns in Florida and New York. If you want to join our coalition in Florida, or if you want to find out more about our campaigns, visit .