Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

It’s Time to End the Paradoxical Punishment of License Suspensions

Imagine learning one day that the DMV has suspended your license because you’ve been unable to pay a several thousand dollar civil judgment. You had hoped to save enough to pay this court debt but, as a low-income worker, you often struggle to put food on the table for your family and keep the lights on. You’re now in a tough bind. If you rely on your car to get to work, run errands, take your children to the doctor, etc., you now have to choose between driving illegally or losing your job and becoming unable to care for your family. If you don’t rely on a car to get to work, it may be difficult to find and maintain the rare job that will hire you without a valid license. Either way, the result of this punitive debt collection practice is that you’ll likely struggle to make ends meet and find it even more difficult to pay the original debt that caused this problem.

Thankfully, legislation in front of D.C. Council may end the era of suspending driver’s licenses as a debt collection tool against those who are unable to pay. The Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017, introduced on December 5 by Councilmembers Silverman, Gray, T. White, Nadeau, and Bonds, would end D.C.’s harsh and counterproductive practice of automatically suspending driver’s licenses as punishment for failure to pay debt from parking tickets, traffic tickets, or civil judgments.

Legal Aid supports the D.C. Council’s efforts to tackle license suspension issues and firmly believes that reform will help our client community. Every year, D.C. residents seek our help with driver’s license suspensions stemming from civil debt. These clients contact us because they want to work, they want to support their families and they want to pay the debts they owe. The Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017 is an important opportunity for the District to end a paradoxical punishment that has kept residents in a cycle of poverty for far too long.

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