The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles has reinstated nearly 66,000 people’s licenses, after previously revoking them for failing to pay certain traffic fines or failing to show up in court for a moving violation, according to a DMV report released earlier this month. The reinstatements come as the result of a new law which prevents the District from suspending licenses for failure to pay fines.
The Washington Post was the first to cover the DMV’s new report and the number of District residents who have licenses again.
“On October 30, 2018, DMV’s licensing system was programmed to no longer suspend driver licenses (D.C. resident) or driving privileges (non-D.C. resident) due to failure to pay a moving violation, failure to pay a moving violation after being found liable at a hearing, and failure to appear for a hearing on a moving violation” as a result of the new law, the report reads. “Additionally, on November 30, 2018, DMV’s licensing system was programmed to reinstate all currently suspended driver licenses and driving privileges due to previous three criteria. After the reinstatements, letters were sent out to the impacted individuals.”
A total of 65,922 people had their licenses or driving privileges reinstated in November 2018, according to the report. Of those, 15,521 were D.C. residents, while 54,401 were non-D.C. residents.
The DMV has notified people whose licenses were reinstated by letter, the report says. But only 14,324 letters actually got sent, because so many of the suspensions were decades old. The DMV isn’t tracking returned mail on the notification letters it sent out, the report says.
The city still suspends some licenses due to unpaid fines—according to the report, 2,282 people have their licenses suspended as a result of “unpaid judgment[s] from D.C. Superior Court.” But yet another law, signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser in January, has prohibited that, too.
When the new law takes effect (which should happen in mid-to-late March, according to the report), the DMV ” will program our licensing system to no longer allow employees to enter judgments for suspensions, and we update DMV’s website to indicate judgments no longer result in suspensions.”
The Washington Post last year found that seven million people across the country have had their licenses revoked because of court debt. Advocacy organizations hold that suspending licenses for unpaid fees traps people in a cycle of poverty and adversely impacts those who can’t afford to pay tickets. The Fines and Fees Justice Center, which advocates eliminating license suspension for unpaid fines, says that the practice leaves people “stuck in a cycle of punishment and poverty, [in which] people can lose their jobs, their homes, and even their children.”