Drive Down the Debt

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Virginia continues to trap hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in debt and poverty by suspending their driver’s licenses for failure to pay court costs and fines. Many of these drivers have no other transportation to work, forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking incarceration for driving illegally. Our January 2018 report, “Driving on Empty: Payment Plan Reforms Don’t Fix Virginia’s Court Debt Crisis” analyzed the payment plan policies of 116 General District Courts.  The analysis found that payment plan policies do not take into account an individual’s financial circumstances.  This results in unrealistic and unaffordable payment plans that often lead to default.

In July 2016, the Legal Aid Justice Center filed a class action lawsuit in federal court challenging this system as unconstitutional because it fails to inquire into the reason for non-payment or consider debtors’ financial circumstances before suspending their licenses.   

Our September 2017 Driven By Dollars report provides a state-by-state analysis of driver’s license suspension laws as they relate to unpaid court debt.  The full report is available here and our press release on it can be found here.

Our webpages are organized by in two ways:

  • By content area:  Use the links above to find content of interest (e.g., the latest developments on our lawsuit, the stories of our plaintiffs and other Virginians impacted adversely by license suspensions, support for our lawsuit from the media, DOJ, NAACP, etc.).
  • By audience group:  Use the links below to find pages with content tailored to the needs of these three groups.

This timeline highlights the major events surrounding our lawsuit from 2016 to 2018.  There are more detailed timelines for 2016 and 2017 here

In addition, the Media Coverage section provides a sampling of coverage and editorial support of all the key events in our efforts in conjunction with the issue in general and the lawsuit in particular.

If you want a brief primer on the facts and impact of the issue of license suspensions in Virginia resulting from unpaid court costs and fines, please review the information below.

The Facts:1 in 6 Virginia drivers image

  • Over 900,000 Virginians had suspended driver’s licenses due to unpaid court costs or fines in 2015.
  • The DMV issued 366,773 driver’s license suspension orders for unpaid court costs or fines in fiscal 2015.
  • Nearly 40% of the fiscal 2015 suspension orders were for offenses wholly unrelated to driving
  • Each Virginia court has its own unique and often onerous procedure for establishing a payment plan to address outstanding court costs and fines. Read Driven Deeper Into Debt: Unrealistic Payment Options Hurt Low-Income Debtors (May 2016)

The Impact:

  • Hundreds of thousands of low-income residents have their licenses suspended when they are unable to cover court costs.
  • For many, this means giving up their only mode of transportation to work, forcing them to choose between losing their jobs and risking incarceration for driving illegally.

Toward a Solution:

  • All low-income debtors should have a path to self-sufficiency and self-respect, and Virginia’s policies should support their efforts.
  • Courts should avoid ordering excessive court costs and fines that impose hardship on low-income families.
  • Virginia should end automatic license suspension and put processes in place to determine whether people have the means to cover court costs and fines before suspending their licenses.