Why We Need to Stop Suspending and Revoking Driver’s Licenses Due to Debt


Arkansas is estimated to have $161.2 million in outstanding court debt.

The Prosperity Now Scorecard rates states on their progress toward racial economic justice in several policy areas. The 2022 policy update includes an assessment of which states have ended the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay fines and fees or failure to appear in court for unpaid fines and fees. It also takes a comprehensive look into Colorado’s recent elimination of debt-based driver’s license suspensions and Arizona and Arkansas’s progress towards elimination. Data indicates that households of color face more financial hardships in keeping up with daily bills and have less money available for emergencies, placing them more at risk of accruing court and legal debt. Overall, six percent of U.S. households owe legal debt; however, households of color have higher court and legal debt rates.

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Key Findings:

  • White households are 76.3 percent of the U.S. population compared to 13.4 percent  Black and 18.5 percent Latinx; white households hold five percent of U.S. legal debt, Black households hold 12 percent, and Latinx households hold nine percent of legal debt.
  • Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia, and recently Colorado have eliminated debt-based driver’s license suspensions.
  • Drivers’ license reinstatement fees range from $100 and $145.
  • An FM3 and American Viewpoint poll found that 80 percent of voters support reducing or replacing fines for minor law violations.
  • Colorado is the only state that prohibits denying to issue, renew or reinstate a person’s driver’s license for unpaid fines or fees.
  • In April of 2021, Arizona limited driver’s license suspensions to just commercial licenses, and Arkansas prohibited the suspension or revocation of a driver’s license if a person cannot pay their court fines and fees.
Seanniece Bamiro
Prosperity Now Scorecard