In Durham County, North Carolina, more than 46,000 drivers—more than 20% of the adult population—have their licenses revoked or suspended for failure to pay fines and fees. Statewide, the figure is 1 in 9 drivers—North Carolina law mandates that failure to pay a traffic fine results in license suspension.
The Durham County District Attorney’s office and the Bloomberg-funded Durham Innovation Team partnered to create the Durham Driver Amnesty Program. In its pilot phase, the District Attorney dismissed 2,500 pending charges for eligible participants which kept them from obtaining their driver’s license. Importantly, Durham residents were able to check their eligibility for the program via text message and e-mail, which program organizers say was a significant factor in the program’s popularity and success: “The reality is that when you get out of prison and you have outstanding charges, even from traffic court, the last thing you want to do is go back to the courthouse to figure out how to deal with them. We have to recognize where people are coming from.” In fact, the organizers noted that requiring in-person court appearances to determine program eligibility was precisely why previous efforts were less successful (only 15 to 20 participants).
- 2,200 people applied for the program, and 793 were deemed eligible.
- Over 2,500 charges were dismissed, and the DA’s office is working with pro bono attorneys to waive associated fees for defendants.