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Personal Narrative: Joan Cooper

Joan Cooper is an Orlando, Florida resident whose license was suspended about six times between 2003 and 2017 for unpaid traffic tickets and court fees. Her most recent suspension from 2019 was due to lack of car insurance. Cooper had car insurance but it lapsed when her monthly rate was raised to $1600. Her limited budget and need to support her family prevented her from paying that much for insurance. Cooper described her daily commute throughout the areas that she often drove through as riddled with speed traps. Tickets for red light camera violations, unpaid tolls, and other minor infractions cost her about $400 each. The few times Cooper went to court to resolve her ticket debt, the judge only gave her two options: pay the ticket, or go to jail. Even though Cooper was working two jobs, sometimes she still couldn’t afford to pay off her tickets before her license was suspended. She would try to avoid this at all costs, because she would have to pay $250 to get her license reinstated in addition to the financial burden of the tickets and fees. She mentioned that in Florida, late fees and penalties are tacked on quickly after tickets are issued, and payment plans are not offered as an alternative to paying the lump sum amount. Cooper was frequently late paying bills because she was using the money intended to cover her utilities and rent to pay her tickets. She can remember borrowing money to pay her tickets at least once. She estimated that she spent between four and five thousand dollars on traffic fines and fees since her first license suspension.

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