Driven to Failure: An Empirical Analysis of Driver’s License Suspension in North Carolina

Through the analysis of four decades of individual and county level suspension data, this study describes North Carolina’s population of  drivers whose licenses have been suspended and assesses how driver’s license suspension statutes operate relative to geography, race and income.  The study explores the constitutional concerns, practical challenges and implications of driver’s license suspensions and the efforts to undo these policies.  

Key findings:

  • There are 1,225,00 individuals with active driver’s license suspensions in North Carolina; 827,00 of those suspensions are for failure to appear, 263,000 for failure to comply (failure to pay) and 135,00 for both. 
  • Of drivers with failure to appear suspensions 33 percent are Black, 24 percent are Latinx and 36 percent are white. For failure to comply suspensions, 47 percent of drivers are Black, 11 percent are Latinx, and 37 percent are white. In comparison, 21 percent of North Carolina’s 16 year old and over population is Black, 8 percent is Latinx, and 65 percent is white.
  • Males make up the majority of suspended drivers and the median age range at which the offense occurred is about 28.67 years old.
  • Over the five years from 2013-2017, there were about 160,000 driving while a license is revoked charges a year; of those 39 percent were white, 54 percent Black and 7 percent Latinx. 
  • Many suspensions remain after several years suggesting that a driver’s license suspension is not easily cured and can be a long term burden. 
  • The number of white individuals in poverty more strongly predicts failure to comply suspensions than white individuals above the poverty line. Conversely, the number Black individuals above the poverty line more strongly predicts suspension than Black individuals below the poverty line. 
  • White individuals below the poverty line and Black individuals above the poverty line are most strongly associated with more failure to appear suspensions.


Data Analysis

  • Future research should further examine the connection between race, poverty, geography and driver license suspension and more in-depth analysis of county level factors that predict the number of suspensions.
  • Data that includes cured and active suspensions as well as economic data would more clearly reveal any relationship between race, poverty and suspension status. Examining how these factors predict a suspension would illustrate the effectiveness of suspensions as debt collection tools. 
  • Examination of factors such as population density, policing, neighborhood and racial dispersion, court and police resources, employment, public transportation and commute time may suggest more tailored outcomes and needed policy reforms for each county. 

Policy Solutions 

  • Focus on the causes of and remedies related to failure to appear in addition to failure to pay or comply. 
  • Policies that eliminate driver’s license suspension should be applied retroactively to clear dated suspensions.
  • Improve notification systems by relying on alternative methods such as text messaging and ensuring up to date address/contact information.
  • Implement court supported transportation solutions where people failed to appear due to lack of transportation.
  • Improve mechanisms for assessing ability to pay at hearings and considering individual circumstances. 
  • Improve collaboration between courts and local social services to support license restoration efforts, including by actively notifying suspended drivers and/or automatically restoring driving privileges.

You can read the full text of the paper here

William E. Crozier and Brandon L. Garrett
Duke Law Journal Vol. 69:1585