California driver licenses no longer suspended for unpaid traffic fines

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California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill that prevents driver’s license suspension for people who failed to pay fines for traffic infractions.

■ Mary Ann Morris / Editor

Traffic scofflaws with unpaid traffic fines don’t have to worry about driving on suspended licenses any longer, thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown. Suspending a person’s driver’s license for traffic infractions is ineffective, says Brown, because the punishment doesn’t help the state collect unpaid fines and license suspension can send low-income people into a cycle of job losses and more poverty.
“Often, the primary consequence of a driver’s license suspension is the inability to legally drive to work or take one’s children to school,” said Brown in his January budget proposal. “There does not appear to be a strong connection between the license suspension and collecting.”
According to data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, in March, about 488,000 people had suspended driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic tickets or missing court appearances. The new law will not apply retroactively and does not reinstate driver’s licenses to those who have suspended licenses.
Those who support the bill say losing the ability to legally drive prevents people from earning money and actually make low-income wage earners less likely to pay fines. Opponents say the threat of license suspension compels people to pay up.
According to the bill Brown signed, driver’s licenses can still be suspended for other infractions, such as failure to appear in court or getting behind on child support payments.

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