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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

Abstract

Driver’s license suspensions for nonpayments of traffic debt disproportionately harm people of color and are legally untenable. Across the country, at least seven million people have had their driver’s license suspended for traffic debt—nonpayments of traffic tickets and nonappearances in traffic court. As this article demonstrates, traffic debt suspensions force people to make an impossible choice: stop driving—and lose access to work, childcare, healthcare, food, and other basic necessities— or keep driving, and risk criminal charges, more unaffordable fines and fees, and even incarceration. License-for-payment laws ultimately create conditions that parallel modern-day debtor’s prisons and are vulnerable to several legal challenges. For these reasons, lawmakers should end suspensions for nonpayments of traffic tickets and nonappearances in traffic court, practices which unduly target and harm communities of color.

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