Road to Nowhere: Debt-Related Driver’s License Suspensions in Ohio


60 percent of active suspensions in Ohio were for offenses unrelated to safe and responsible vehicle operations.

Each year, over 1 million drivers in Ohio have a suspended license for failure to pay fines and fees. Using surveys, census data, and five years of debt-related suspension data from Ohio’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland investigated the extent and impact of driver’s license suspensions in Ohio. The authors found that Ohioans face over three million debt-related suspensions totaling over $900 million yearly in outstanding debt. The authors also report that residents in areas with high poverty rates and high percentages of people of color are disproportionately affected by suspensions and the associated fees and costs, revealing that those struggling to pay for debt-related suspensions pay the most.

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Key Findings:

  • In 2017, Ohioan drivers had over 3 million suspensions.
  • Ohio communities are burdened with an outstanding balance of $920 million in debt-related suspensions each year. 
  • 75 percent of survey respondents reported having a suspended license for over one year.
  •  Over half a million drivers have a court registration block or a warrant block that prevents them from lawfully driving after their registration or license expires.
  • From 2016 to 2020, the Ohio BMV and private creditors assessed $758 million in fees and other claims for debt-related suspensions, averaging $151.6 million per year.
  • 64 percent of survey respondents owe over $1,000; 20 percent owe over $5,000.
  • 85 percent of respondents reported a household income of less than $25,000 annually at the time of their first suspension.
  • Ohioans living in the zip codes with the highest poverty rates faced 40 times as many debt-related suspensions and paid $202.5 million in DRS fees and costs, whereas the wealthiest zip codes paid $6.1 million.
  • The zip codes with the highest percentage of people of color paid over $60 million in debt-related suspensions, whereas predominantly white zip codes paid just over $500,000. 
Anne K. Sweeney, Esq., Michael S. Russell, Esq., Julie K. Robie, Esq., & Dr. Brian Mikelbank
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland