Driving in debt

After the accident, police took the other driver away in handcuffs.

The non-arrested driver said to me, “Her license was suspended. She must be a bad driver.”

I heard, “Her license was suspended. She must be poor.”

The world is full of people who may or may not be good drivers, but can’t legally drive until they pay money. The label may be “debt”, “fine”, or “reinstatement fee.” Under any name it’s an often-insurmountable barrier.

A friend of the family got a ticket for not letting her cell phone go to sleep before pulling out of a parking lot. That’s a ticket in Connecticut. If the screen is lit you must be using the phone. The truth doesn’t matter. She had to accept charity from her friends.

If you have time to read blogs about transportation policy, you may be able to treat tickets as bad luck, go to court, maybe win and maybe pay the fine, and then move on.

If you’re poor you lose your license for not paying the fine and then you can’t legally drive to work. And you owe an extra fine for not paying the first fine, and you have to pay both to get your license back.

Michigan tried a “get tough” approach and just put thousands of people even deeper into debt. Judges couldn’t handle the increase in criminal cases. Not driving to work is not an option for many people, and that leads to more tickets for unlicensed driving, putting the drivers deeper into traffic debt.

I was reminded of all this when I turned on the radio and heard a story about a bill to increase penalties for unlicensed driving. Driving with a suspended license would be treated like drunk driving. Possibly worse. If a drunk driver crashes into you and dies, you go to prison for at least five years for not having a license.

It was another emotional victim-driven bill. The coverage was like, “this law will bring my daughter back to life.”

I heard, “this law will put more victims in jail.”

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

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