Sreya Sarkar, Director of the Asset Ownership Project at Cascade Policy Institute, wrote the following article featured today
in Oregon's Statesman Journal:
Driver's license or good citizen's card?
The driver's license was originally
created to ensure public safety by setting standards for driving
competency. Accordingly, license suspensions were a legal mechanism to
remove unsafe drivers from the road.
But in the last fifteen years,
federal and state lawmakers have viewed the license as a "good citizen"
trophy and sought to suspend it for a number of non-driving-related
The list of non-driving
misdemeanors resulting in license suspension includes failure to pay
parking fines and failure to appear in court, even for reasons
completely unrelated to driving. State agencies are increasingly using
driver's license suspension to enforce laws and public policies that
have nothing to do with driving or even motor vehicles. The problem is
that suspension of driving privileges makes it much more difficult to
keep or find a job, and thus makes it even harder for individuals to
comply with whatever rule was broken in the first place.
Oregon, as in many other states, more than fifty non-driving-related
offenses can lead to a driver's license suspension. Some typical
non-driving-related reasons that lead to suspension are: failure to
comply with court orders, failure to appear in court, failure to pay
child support, and failure to pay certain fines.
a recent report, the Mobility Agenda (a Washington D.C.-based think
tank that seeks to stimulate support for strengthening the labor market
and benefiting workers) discusses how driver's license suspension can
have negative economic and social effects, especially if a license is
suspended for non-driving-related reasons. Local communities, employers
and employees experience serious negative consequences as a result of
license suspensions, including unemployment, lower wages, and fewer
employment opportunities and hiring choices. Some employers,
particularly in the construction and healthcare fields, require a
driver's license as a precondition of employment, either because
driving is part of the job or as a way to screen applicants.
addition to these negative effects, other costs can be associated with
license suspension, like the expensive license reinstatement process
that includes court appearances and legal assistance. In some states,
automobile insurance costs automatically increase after a suspension,
even if the suspension is for non-driving reasons. Low-income workers
are likely to be disproportionately affected by license suspensions
arising from inability to pay fines and fees. Suspending low-income
workers' licenses can lead to additional economic distress both for
employers and the extended community when people are unable to reach or
to apply for jobs inaccessible by public transit. This is yet another
barrier to a low-income worker's economic opportunity and stable income.
Mobility Agenda report also discusses state-level policy changes making
a crucial impact in reducing license suspension for non-driving-related
reasons. For example, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, community leaders
succeeded in facilitating some statutory changes resulting in fewer
license suspensions due to non-driving-related reasons. This change
significantly decreased the number of drivers with suspended licenses
The driver's license
is a vital link to employment for many workers and should not be
suspended for reasons unrelated to driving at the whim of policymakers
who would like to convert the driver's license into a "good citizen"
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