Escaping the Long Arm of the Law? Racial Disparities in the Effect of Failure-to- Pay License Suspension

This paper studies the unintended consequences of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay by examining the effect of suspension on the likelihood of receiving future tickets. Researchers followed defendants issued traffic tickets in Marion County, Indiana between January 1, 2001 and November 30, 2017 for 2 years to determine whether they received a second ticket. The authors conclude that after a driver’s license suspension for failure to pay (FTP), there is a small negative effect on the white drivers receiving a second ticket, but an increase for Black drivers, resulting from the differential treatment of Black drivers by law enforcement. 

Key Findings:

  • In Marion County, if a ticket is not paid or contested within 72 days of the date issued, the court instructs the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to suspend the driver’s license. The license remains suspended until the ticket is paid and all conditions, reinstatement fee, driver safety program etc., are met. 
  • Failure to pay suspensions have virtually no effect on the probability of receiving a second ticket. However, among white drivers, there was a negative effect reducing the probability of a second ticket by 2.5 percent. Among Black drivers, a suspension increased the probability by between 9.3 and 9.8 percent.
  • Among low income drivers, suspension increased the probability of receiving a second ticket by between 11.8 and 14.1 percent for Black drivers and had a small negative effect for white drivers. 
  • Black males most often incurred an additional traffic ticket. 
  • Among white women, FTP reduced the probability of receiving a second ticket to almost zero percent. 
  • For Black women and men, FTP suspensions increased the probability of reoffending by 9.3 and 8.1 percent respectively. 
  • Black men had the highest probability with FTP increasing the likelihood of a second ticket to 22.5 percent.

You can read the full study here.