Under the new law, a person who cannot afford to pay a traffic fine will no longer have their driver’s license suspended. The legislation also requires income-based payment plans to pay off traffic debt at either 2 percent of a person’s monthly income or $25 per month, whichever is greater.
People who currently have a suspended license due to non-payment of traffic fines will also have their license reinstated.
“This is a significant step toward scaling back economic and racial inequality in New York,” said Katie Adamides, New York State director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Given the bipartisan national momentum for fines and fees reform, we must build on this victory to enact more comprehensive approaches.”
Under a compromise reached between the state legislature and the governor, driver’s license suspensions will remain for people who do not appear at traffic court hearings.
However, they will still be given an opportunity to enter into a payment plan and get their license reinstated. The reinstatement fees will be folded into the total payment plan amount.
As part of the reforms, individuals will also be given two notifications before their license is suspended.
“Ending wealth-based driver’s license suspensions will help break the cycle of debt that exacerbates racial and economic disparities, denies access to opportunity and perpetuates mass incarceration,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Driver’s license suspensions should be used for the limited purpose of keeping unsafe drivers off the road, not as a debt-collection mechanism.”
According to advocates, between January 2016 and April 2018, New York issued nearly 1.7 million driver’s license suspensions for not paying traffic fines, followed by a non-appearance at a traffic hearing.
Advocates said Black and Latino people are disproportionately stopped, ticketed, charged and convicted for traffic violations.
New York is now the tenth state, along with Washington D.C., to pass a similar law over the past three years.
“Wealth-based driver’s license suspensions have a disproportionate impact on low-income New Yorkers and people of color,” said Jacqueline Gosdigian, senior policy counsel at Brooklyn Defender Services, “and perpetuate the cycle of poverty and mass criminalization.”