Illinois, quit suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid parking tickets (Chicago Sun-Times)

OPINION By Ben Ruddell and Brian Costin

During a routine 2008 traffic stop in Chicago, LaSheria’s life was permanently changed. After being stopped, she learned that her driver’s license was suspended for parking tickets received in 1999, and that the debt had grown to more than $2,500. After struggling for weeks to support her family without transportation to and from work, she filed bankruptcy, hoping to get her license back. But the bankruptcy plan did not clear her debt, which ballooned to nearly $8,000. Today, LaSheria is still making monthly payments to the City of Chicago because of parking violations made nearly 20 years ago. 

Sadly, this is not an isolated case. There is a hidden crisis in Illinois: Each year, nearly 50,000 licenses are suspended because drivers cannot pay tickets, fines or fees, and for other reasons that have nothing to do with driving. These suspensions are not aimed at making our roads safer. Instead, they force people to choose between unemployment and the risk of going to jail for driving on a suspended license. 

Eighty percent of Illinoisans drive to work, and many employers require a driver’s license. When a person’s license is suspended, they are at risk of losing their job — one study of drivers in New Jersey showed that happened more than 40 percent of the time. License suspensions also punish families, because people need to drive to get their kids to school, buy food and access health care. When a person must choose between meeting their family’s needs and paying a fine to the government, they prioritize their family. 

We also know that license suspensions as a result of unpaid tickets disproportionately hurt low-income and minority communities. A Woodstock Institute study of enforcement patterns in Illinois’ largest city shows that tickets are far more likely to be issued to residents of Chicago’s lowest-income areas, and to those who live in ZIP codes with the highest proportion of minority residents. The report also determined that drivers living in lower-income and minority ZIP codes were twice as likely as other drivers to have unpaid tickets resulting in a license suspension. 

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