On Tuesday June 29, New York’s Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act takes full effect, ending the state’s widespread practice of suspending an individual’s driver’s license when they cannot afford to pay a traffic fine.
This legislation will allow hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to regain their driver’s licenses — and with it their access to work and other necessities. Sponsored by Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo and Assembly member Pamela Hunter of Syracuse, New York’s legislation was approved by wide margins and signed into law by Gov. Cuomo last year.
Debt-based driver’s license suspensions are a cruel and counterproductive collection practice that creates a cycle of poverty and punishment few can escape. Between January 2016 and April 2018, New York issued nearly 1.7 million driver’s license suspensions for non-payment of traffic fines and non-appearance at traffic hearings.
If a person drives with a suspended license, they are subject to arrest, more fines and fees, and even jail, simply because they cannot afford to pay a traffic ticket. Because Black and Latinx people are disproportionately stopped, ticketed, charged and convicted for traffic violations, this especially burdens their families and communities.
The new law will end license suspensions due to non-payment of traffic fines, while making affordable payment plans available (at 2% of a person’s monthly income or $25/month, whichever is greater). The reform would also reinstate the licenses of people who currently have a suspended license due to non-payment of traffic fines.
The new law will also help individuals whose licenses are suspended for missing a traffic hearing by providing them with an opportunity to enter into a payment plan and get their licenses restored. Those individuals – often people who did not respond to their traffic ticket because they could not afford their traffic fines – can reinstate their licenses by entering a payment plan without the obstacle of paying reinstatement fees, as they will be folded into the total payment plan amount. Individuals will also now be issued two notifications prior to a license suspension.
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