In an interesting new development in Tennessee, about 300,000 residents are breathing sighs of relief after learning they don’t have to pay their unpaid parking tickets to get their driver’s licenses back.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger has ruled that a state law allowing revocation of a driver’s license if traffic violation fines were not paid is unconstitutional because suspending or revoking a driver’s license solely for non-payment of fees “violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
After the state implemented a law allowing driver’s license revocations for unpaid traffic violations, between 2012 and 2016, more than 146,000 Tennesseans lost their licenses due to unpaid tickets and court costs. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security only a little over 10,500 of those who lost their license were able to get their licenses reinstated by paying the fines and court costs.
Judge Trauger’s decision prevents future suspensions if someone is able to show he is not able to pay traffic fines assessed. People who already had their license suspended because of their failure to pay must ask the state to have their license reinstated. If you live in Tennessee, there is a specific process you must follow to get your driver’s license back if you lost it due to unpaid traffic violations.
Those For and Those Against…
The Judge’s decision now opens the door for almost 300,000 other people in the state of Tennessee to get their driving privileges back if they are unable to pay outstanding traffic fines. According to Judge Trauger, the law as it previously existed only further punished those who were unable to pull together the money necessary to pay their fines. Not driving kept them from looking for jobs, getting to work on time or at all, and caring for their families, so the vicious cycle of being in debt due to not being able to earn a living was constantly in motion.
While some argue the ruling sends the message that it’s OK to ignore traffic citation fines—basically, you can break the law, get fined and not pay the price. Why should some drivers have to pay (to avoid the consequences of losing their driver’s license), while others may continue to enjoy the privilege of driving even after being cited and fined for speeding, distracted driving, running red lights or stop signs and other infractions that could lead to accidents, injuries and deaths?
Those in support of the judge’s ruling agree with her assertions that it is simply impossible to get a job and make a living to support your family and pay off traffic tickets when you lose your driver’s license. How are people who are already struggling to make ends meet financially expected to make the money necessary to clear their records if they can’t drive to work?
Breaking the Cycle
Judge Trauger said that traffic fines and court costs often prove to be an “insurmountable barrier for poor Tennesseans who struggle to cobble together basic living expenses.” If these men and women are not permitted to drive, how can law enforcement and the court system expect them to make it to work to earn the money needed to pay the often-hefty fines? Judge Trauger did her part to break the vicious cycle of poverty and loss of driving privileges.
Talk to a Memphis law firm if you or someone you love is in need of legal help.