Michigan drivers who lost licenses to hefty fines may soon see relief

Inside Subprime: October 3, 2017


By Caroline Thompson

Most U.S. states suspend the licenses of drivers who have failed to pay traffic tickets, but Michigan has one of the harshest fee systems in the country. Since 2003, the state’s “Driver Responsibility Fee” has revoked almost 350,000 licenses from drivers who couldn’t pay their tickets, a practice that’s had many unintended consequences for Michigan residents, who rely on their cars to get to work every day. Without a license and saddled with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in traffic debt, many already financially stressed Michigan residents have found it impossible to get to work, and have lost their jobs as a result.

Slate writer Henry Graber calls Michigan’s Driver Responsibility Fee a punitive state policy that has “confiscated millions of licenses from the poor for being poor.” But there may be hope for the thousands of poverty-stricken Michigan drivers whose licenses have been confiscated by the state.

On Thursday, Michigan lawmakers unveiled a bipartisan reform package aimed at helping those affected by the DRF get back on their feet. One of the measures proposed in this package, HB 5040-5046, hopes to “Speed up the phaseout of driver responsibility fees, provide for fee forgiveness for drivers, set up education outreach for the amnesty program and for people trying to get their drivers’ license back,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

The state is considering not only ending the DRF, but forgiving all debt associated with it. According to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, the move comes after a officials realized that, of the $634 million in outstanding DRF debt, less than $20 million is actually collectable.

“[DEF] fees are a costly, double penalty on working families added automatically, without the opportunity for a court to review the circumstances as with normal tickets. Too many Michigan residents now can’t drive because of these automatic fees, limiting their ability to find work, and it’s starting to hurt local businesses who can’t find enough qualified employees,” said Johnson in a statement last week. “We have to acknowledge that much of the money owed to the state is simply uncollectible, and we must find a solution that allows hard-working, law-abiding Michigan residents living to get their driver’s license back.”

Mounting traffic tickets aren’t the only way you could lose access to your vehicle. Too many people who take out an auto title loan end up having to give up their cars. Learn more about the dangers of title lending here

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