No License to Drive: Why So Many Ohioans Are Barred From Driving


As of September 2022, Ohio had over 3 million active license suspensions, potentially impacting 1.9 million drivers.

States surrounding Ohio have eliminated debt-based driver’s license suspensions in recent years, but Ohio continues to issue suspensions for failure to pay court debt. An investigation by Marshall Project–Cleveland and WEWS News 5 found that the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle (BMV) issued 200,000 license suspensions in 2022 for debt-based reasons. Reasons include failing to pay court fines, not having proof of insurance, or missing child support payments. The investigation also found the zip code with one of the highest debt-based suspensions belongs to a predominantly Black neighborhood in Cleveland. Drivers with a suspended license are subject to an additional $25 payment fee to restore their licenses, causing hardship to many.

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Key Findings:

  • Cuyahoga County has the highest number of license suspensions for failing to show proof of insurance; 95,000 suspensions were issued between 2020 and 2022.
  • Ohioans owe $332 million in reinstatement fees as of March 2023.
  • Cleveland’s 44104 zip code, with a median income of $18,500, has one of the highest rates of debt-related suspensions among drivers in Ohio. 
Mark Puente and Tara Morgan
The Marshall Project- Cleveland and WEWS News 5 Cleveland