Driving Toward Justice: How ending driver’s license suspensions for unpaid traffic tickets helps communities without impacting court collections

In this issue brief, the authors describe the reform efforts that were implemented after the San Francisco Superior Court’s decision to eliminate debt-based driver’s license suspensions. Since ending the practice, San Francisco’s traffic ticket debt collection rate has not been negatively affected and reform efforts resulted in increased compliance with court appearances and payment requirements. The text also provides recommendations for jurisdictions to address the inequalities produced by driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay and failure to appear. 

You can read the full text of the brief here

Key findings
  • In fiscal year 2017-18, the year after California eliminated driver’s license suspensions for Failure to Pay traffic tickets, California courts collected 8.9 percent more from non-delinquent accounts.
  • More frequent and better designed reminders such as sending text messages has reduced Failure to Appear rates. 
  • Research shows that driver’s license suspensions for Failure to Appear and Failure to Pay can undermine public safety because law enforcement resources used to police these offenses could be used to fight serious crime.  
  • Low-income people are more likely to be unable to afford a traffic ticket or appear in court. 
  • Driver’s license suspensions disproportionately and overwhelmingly burden people of color. 
  • Contact community groups that can explain the impact of driver’s license suspensions on low-income individuals and people of color in your community.
  • Identify the community-wide negative impact that driver’s license suspensions can have on your local jurisdiction.
  • Connect and engage with the national Free to Drive Campaign which is committed to the principle that restrictions on driving privileges should only be used for dangerous driving. 
  • Introduce alternative mechanisms to enhance collections and increase appearance rates including sending higher frequency communications about debt due, offering no-cost payment plans, creating clear Ability to Pay processes, sending text message reminders about court dates, and clearly indicating the court appearance information on summonses to traffic court. 
Christa Brown and Anne Stuhldreher, San Francisco Financial Justice Project, Kimia Pakdaman, University of California at Berkeley
The Financial Justice Project, San Francisco