The Hidden Costs of Suspending Driver’s Licenses for Non-Driving Offenses: Resources, Public Safety

It’s not good at preventing repetition of the same violation.  It can decrease public safety. It’s expensive. Plus, it can cost citizens lost wages and further entrench people in poverty.

Screenshot 2014-03-28 15.29.09“It” is the suspension of driver’s licenses for non-driving offenses.  According to a 2013 report funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, all states should end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for everything from failure to pay child support and student loans to advocating overthrow of the government.

The report cites that taking away a driver’s license for non-driving offenses is expensive, ineffective and distracts departments of highway safety away from their mission — keeping highways safe.

“The creation and implementation of suspensions for non-highway safety related reasons generates unnecessary costs to the jurisdiction and creates a burden on driver licensing authorities, the courts and law enforcement through financial limitations and expenditures of resources. The cost to create the suspension in the agencies computer system, as well as the cost in personnel time and supplies is an expense that is not justified by the end result.”    American Association of Motor Vehicles Administrators (AAMVA), “Best Practices Guide to Reducing Suspended Drivers” (2013)

A recent post on the Atlantics Cities blog highlighted the efforts of a Republican lawmaker who is challenging his constituents and  fellow legislators to rethink the consequences and purpose of suspending licenses for non-driving offenses.  In his interview with a local newspaper, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford described the very real scenario of a man losing his license for non-payment of child support, but then unable to reliably get to work …  because he had no driver’s license.  The result – another person unemployed and a mother no closer to getting child support checks.

In Florida, more than 160,000 people had driver’s licenses suspended for non-driving offenses  in 2013.  While Florida may have a large number of suspensions for both driving and non-driving offenses, it is not among the top states for percentage of drivers with suspended licenses.  In fact, Tennessee is among the top five states for percentage of drivers with suspended licenses — more than 13% of all Tennessee drivers had their licenses suspended, according to a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation. If Tennessee is in line with national statistics, more than one-third (39%) of those with suspended licenses, received the suspension for non-driving offenses.

Non-driving offenses in Tennessee that can result in suspension of a license are:

  • Non-payment of child support
  • Possession of a controlled substance
  • Fuel piracy/theft
  • Weapon/threat in a school

Minors in Tennessee can have their driver’s licenses suspended for the following:

  • Alcohol possession/consumption
  • Using a false ID to purchase alcohol

Supporters of the overhaul of driver’s license suspension policies maintain that while violation of child support agreements and stealing gas are problems that must be addressed — the solution should not involve taking away a license meant to promote highway safety.  Other supporters make the argument that this mission drift can even decrease public safety.

“When a law enforcement officer encounters a suspended driver, their ability to help ensure the safety of drivers on the roadways and their availability to respond to calls for service are reduced. The officer must take appropriate action for the violation and later appear in court for adjudication of the ticket(s). While the officer is in court, there may be little or no enforcement presence in their patrol area. Officers are made unavailable for 9-1-1 responses, crash investigation, criminal interdiction, and other enforcement activities, potentially increasing the threat to public safety.

Eliminating 39 percent of suspended drivers will result in fewer citations for driving while under suspension and partially alleviate clogged court dockets. Individuals whose offense is unrelated to highway safety will retain their driving privileges, their ability to earn a living, and their ability to contribute to the economy.”   AAMVA (2013)

If you are interested in seeing which non-driving offenses in various states can result in driver’s license suspension, click this link.