Skip to content

Over 11 million driver’s licenses nationwide currently suspended for unpaid debt

WASHINGTON D.C.– Today, more than 100 legal, policy, advocacy and private sector organizations from across the country will launch the ‘Free to Drive’ campaign. The campaign seeks to end harmful policies that render millions of Americans unable to drive simply because they are too poor to pay a fee, fine, tax, or debt.

“Suspending driver's licenses for unpaid fines and fees is a failed strategy. It's cruel, counterproductive and costly to individuals and communities,” said Lisa Foster and Joanna Weiss, co-directors of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “When we take away someone's driver's license simply because they can't afford increasingly exorbitant fines and fees, we take away their ability to get to work, take their children to school, a family member to the doctor and make a court appearance. It needs to stop now.”

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia currently suspend, revoke or refuse to renew driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic and court fines and fees. These suspensions not only prevent people from earning the money they need to pay their “court debt,” but also undercut their ability to support themselves, their families and their community.

“Suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees adds yet another spiral to the cycle of incarceration for the poorest individuals. Driver’s license suspensions saddle those who already cannot afford to pay their court debt with additional fines for new traffic offenses and fees for reinstatement,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Driver’s license suspensions not only prevent the ability to drive, they also make the ability to fully participate and advance in society elusive.”

“Koch Industries is proud to support the Free to Drive campaign. Each year, millions of Americans have their driver’s licenses suspended or revoked simply because they cannot afford to pay fines and fees,” said Mark Holden, senior vice president of Koch Industries. “These suspensions do not protect or promote public safety. They are overreaching and harmful, imposing significant barriers on those seeking to improve their lives. They cause many—particularly those in lower-income communities—to lose their jobs and their ability to support their families. This cycle of coercive debt repayment and harsh penalties must end. We look forward to working with the campaign as we continue to fight for comprehensive criminal justice reform for all.”

In launching the nationwide campaign, Free to Drive will unveil a powerful resource for policymakers and advocates fighting for reform. The first-of-its-kind national driver’s license suspension map details state-by-state information on driver’s license suspension policies, comprehensive data on the number of licenses suspended in each state, and stories of impacted individuals across the country.

In the past two years, Montana, Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, California, Idaho, Maine, and the District of Columbia have enacted legislative reforms to tackle debt-based license suspension. But even in states that have taken action, further reform is needed. 43 more states have seen no reform at all.

“Today, more than 11 million people nationwide have had their driver's licenses suspended over unpaid fees and fines. This is 11 million people who are unable to go to work, see their families and friends, get to the grocery store and doctor's office, and do all of the things that we all take for granted and that give life meaning,” said Alec Karakatsanis, founder and executive director of Civil Rights Corps. “We are thrilled to stand with the Fines and Fees Justice Center and more than 100 other organizations to launch a campaign that will end this counterproductive practice and remove one immense barrier to escaping the cycle of poverty.”

View the national driver’s license suspension map.

About Free to Drive

Free to Drive is a national coalition committed to the principle that restrictions on driving privileges should only be used for dangerous driving, and not to coerce debt payment or to punish people who miss a court appearance. The national coalition of more than 100 legal, policy, advocacy, research, and private sector organizations is led by a steering committee that includes: American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights Corps, Fines and Fees Justice Center, Koch Industries, Legal Aid Justice Center, Right on Crime, Southern Poverty Law Center, Texas Appleseed, and The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Arnold Ventures is a proud member of the Free to Drive campaign.