More Options For Low-Income Drivers With Suspended Licenses

license njNew Jersey is among several states that give drivers – particularly the low-income – options for getting back a drivers license that was suspended as the result of a non-driving offense, a federal report has found. All states have policies allowing them to suspend drivers for offenses not related to driving, according to the Government Accountability Office report released this month. Those include license suspensions for failure to maintain proper insurance, failure to appear in court, and failure to pay a court fine. States can also suspend the driver’s license of someone who fails to pay child support payments, the report said.

Some question whether such policies are fair to drivers who may not be readily able to pay a fine, and end up losing their license. That person could lose their job, and end up facing additional fines, experts say.

It’s a “vicious cycle,” said Michael Horan, spokesman for the state Motor Vehicle Commission.

But in at least four states, there are practices that can help ease the burden on drivers, such as allowing a driver to have a restricted license that allows them to go some places, instead of a fully suspended license. In New Jersey, drivers can get on a payment plan.

The state is willing to work with people, said Horan.

“If they’re just willing to come in, take time and talk, there are things that can be done to get you back on the road,” he said.

A 2006 report that the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University did for a state Motor Vehicles Affordability and Fairness Task Force found that roughly 5 percent of all licensed drivers in the state had a suspended license at any given time.

The suspension rate was significantly higher in low-income communities with regard to non-driving related offenses, said Jon Carnegie, executive director at the transportation center and lead investigator on the report. The state currently has 5.5 million licensed drivers, according to the state.

Horan said that since the 2006 report, New Jersey has developed payment plan options for people who “get into vicious cycles.”

But he also said drivers also need to be responsible, particularly when it comes to notifying the state when they change addresses. Many license suspensions result from a driver moving and never getting a letter from the state about an offense, he said. When the letter is ignored, that person’s license could be suspended without them even realizing it, he said.

The GAO report also found several obstacles to clearing a suspended license. A person who has violations in multiple jurisdictions must go to each jurisdiction to clear the offense before they can reclaim their license, it said.

In addition, it said more funded is needed for the courts to work with low-income people.

The report also found there is a lack of consensus among stakeholders than can be an obstacle for the low-income.

“While there might have been sympathy to the plight of these folk, there is a basic desire to maintain this system of law and order,” he said.

The GAO report looked at New Jersey, Maryland, Washington and Wisconsin between November 2008 and February 2010. North Jersey.

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