Transportation Policy

NPR Discovers the Dire Effects of Petty Law Enforcement Regarding Drivers Licenses

|

I wrote back in January 2014 about the often unrecognized serious effects on the lives, particularly on the poor and working poor, of petty law enforcement fines related to how we move otherwise harmlessly through the world. I had a special emphasis on the pile-on effect of fines leading to drivers license suspensions leading to more fines leading to possible arrests.

allie™ / iW / CC BY-NC-ND

In that story I quoted a former Florida public defender Tom Nordlie on the phenomenon:

"In the world of misdemeanor crimes, many offenses come about because people are impulsive, drug-addicted, cruel or avaricious….Most DWLS [driving with license suspended] cases don't happen for any of those reasons. DWLS cases come about because people are poor. Or, at the very least, because they don't manage their money well…DWLS is more strongly linked to economics than any other misdemeanor offense." It frequently occurred because of unpaid tickets, or lack of insurance.

"I had many clients tell me, 'I had to keep working to have a chance to raise the money I needed to fix this situation, and in order to work, I had to drive.' Bam. It's a DWLS charge waiting to happen."

Nordlie went on to point out in my story that most of the DWLSs he dealt with had nothing to do with any demonstrated inability to drive well.

Yesterday NPR presented a good report on the same topic. Excerpts:

A large number of suspensions are for reasons that have nothing to do with unsafe driving.

These reasons include unpaid traffic tickets, falling behind on child support, getting caught with drugs, bouncing checks; or minor juvenile offenses like missing school, using false identification to buy alcohol, or shoplifting.

….. A study in 2013 from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators raised concerns that police and state and local motor vehicle officials find too much of their time and budget tied up going after people with suspensions for minor lawbreaking that has nothing to do with safe driving.

NPR goes on to report about a hapless woman who found that an unpaid fine from a teen shoplifting charge hobbled her with a two-year license suspension from the day she passed her driving test to be legally eligible to get a license to begin with.

The reasons for the state to deprive someone of the right to move about by our culture's most efficient means are multiplying:

…..state lawmakers added hundreds of reasons that had nothing to do with unsafe driving….at least 18 states will suspend someone's driver's license for failure to pay the fines on nondriving traffic violations. And four states will suspend it for not paying parking tickets. Among the other reasons: school truancy, bouncing a check, not paying college loans, graffiti and littering.

Most people, for understandable reasons having to do with their livelihoods and lives, don't always respect such suspensions, leaving them open to further fines and even arrests. These are among the most common ways America's working and poor classes interact with the government: as a source of unreasonable restrictions on movement in the name of mulcting them of more cash.

NEXT: United States of Emergency

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Let them drive cake! “

  2. Heard that on the drive home yesterday. Was surprised that NPR didn’t lick the boot.

    1. I hear lots of stories on NPR that are critical of law enforcement practices. They had a great series on asset forfeitures and bail reforms recently too.

      1. Except that, for most progressives, it is mainly about racism. Eliminate racial disparities & the statist policy is “just fine.” See also Stop and Frisk.

        I’m not saying libertarians and npr can’t (or shouldn’t) unite to correct an obvious injustice, only that this should not be mistaken for evidence that npr has seen the light.

  3. Leaving aside the whole licensing question for a moment, what business does the government have saying you can’t drive unless you’ve demonstrated that you can’t drive safely? Okay, a couple of DUIs, a wildly reckless vehicular manslaughter, no driving. But failure to pay a fine or whatever? Come on.

    1. FYTW?

    2. You’re not free unless you’re asking permission and obeying orders.

    3. They Own the Roads! (And they’d like you send your taxes in soon in a totally unrelated matter).

    4. It’s just a method of compliance. That’s why the pigs are always quick to point out that driving is a privilege, i.e. something they can take away on a whim.

      And it’s not just licensing issues, that idea is also the “logic” behind vastly decreased 2nd, 4th and 5th Amendment rights while driving.

      1. I see. What do I need to do to restore my individual liberties? Can I send a letter to the Congress or something?

        1. Sure, they always need more jizzrags.

          1. Okay. Is there such a thing as sandpaper letterhead stock?

            1. This is how niche markets get their start.

              1. Ya know, that would be a fun joke, selling roughish paper that you could still write on explicitly for letters to Congress, with that explanation …. you can almost imagine congressional aides laughing about another jizwrap sandpaper letter. Laugh yer head off when it hits some sitcom.

            2. This is how niche markets get their start.

              1. As niches go, this is one of the nichiest.

      2. The motor vehicle exception to the warrant requirement is one of the worst doctrines in jurisprudence of the last 100 years IMO.

        1. Pretty soon we will have a mobile device exception, which is at least equally bad.

    5. They do it for the same reason that I use access to the family car as a tool to discipline my 16 year old son who just got his license.

      He is so addicted to the freedom that the car gives him he will do just about anything to avoid having his driving privileges taken away.

      The state does the same thing. Driving is such a must have that you will jump through all sorts of other hoops to avoid losing that license. I know that every legislative session it seems like they add more things to the list of offenses that will get your license revoked.

      It is such a wonderful tool of coercion that there is no way the state is going to pass up the chance to use it.

      1. Which is why we’re abject fools in allowing the state such power over us.

        1. But like my son we meekly submit lest the tyrant decide to yank the car keys for pushing back. Or worse letting his sister get the car for the night.

          1. The thing is, you can only get caught for no license if you get stopped for some reason. I’ve only been stopped once in my life. So if you get your act together (and are white) then you really don’t have to worry too much about a suspended license. Of course, if you could get your act together (and are white) then you wouldn’t have a suspended license to begin with…

            1. Nothing bad ever happens to white people. They all live in perfect harmony with the government. Fact.

  4. I have never seen the word “mulct” before today (that I’m aware of), and already I’ve seen it twice. Weird.

    1. Ditto. I always thought it was milked.

    2. Soon it will be everywhere: Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

      1. Soon it will be everywhere: Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

        I always wondered what that was called. I noticed this when I was younger and realized pretty quick that I either live in the Truman Show, or I have a bias that leaves such an impression. Occum’s Razor leads inexorably to the fact that I live under a vast conspiracy of people using newly invented words just to fuck with me.

        1. I’m pretty sure my first word like that was sward, from A Princess of Mars. I thought it was a typo for sword until I looked it up.

          1. Well fuck you, now I have to look it up too.

            1. : an area of land covered with grass

      2. w00t! That term was invented on the old PiPress Bulletin Board column.

        http://www.psmag.com/culture/t…..non-59670/

        OT: My favorite BB story ever was back in the 90’s when they ran a story from a reader who said her parents would wrap up empty boxes each Christmas. Then if any of the kids would misbehave the dad would pick up an empty box and throw it into the wood burning furnace while telling them sadly that this is what happened to bad kids.

    3. It came up on their “Word of the Day” calenders.

    4. Mencken used “mulct” occasionally. He’s worth reading for his style and vocabulary, let alone his ideas.

      1. The dude makes me laugh even 1 billion years later.

      2. It’s a word I’ve been fond of for many years as a google seach on Brian Doherty mulct will show. I likely learned it from Mencken himself or possibly Rothbard, likely via Mencken:

    5. Mulct is an excellent word. Samuel Edward Konkin III uses it on damn near every page of everything he writes.

  5. The logic of the government never ceases to amaze me. In order to get you to pay the fines/child support/danegeld you owe, we’re going to keep you from driving, thereby depriving you of whatever income you once had by making it impossible to hold down a job.

    1. It’s supposed to be an incentive: “Pay up or we’ll take away your license.”

    2. In order to get you to pay the fines/child support/danegeld you owe, we’re going to keep you from driving

      That’s not what they’re thinking, at all.

      They’re thinking, “The way we’ve set things up screws poor people, but poor people are all criminals waiting to happen, so the more legal pretexts we can devise to put poor people into the criminal justice system, the safer all the real citizens will be. Also, highway patrolmen and county sheriff jail employees gotta eat.”

    3. States also now require you to put your SSN on any hunting/fishing license application.

      The reason they do so is so they can check to see if you have any outstanding child support payments. If you do, no license for you.

      In 2003, the State of Minnesota passed legislation that requires the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to collect your social security number (SSN) as part of an application for a non-commercial hunting or fishing license.

      This legislation was passed to meet the federal requirements of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. [The federal law is Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, U.S.C., Title 42, section 666(a)(13).] This federal requirement is to assist states in enforcement of child support programs.

      1. War on Men! (I’m only being partially facetious)

        1. Partially? Pfft. As one who is obligated to pay child support, I assure you, I’m in the crosshairs. My divorce decree says that I’m not supposed to have my child support withheld from my pay by my employer unless I stop paying it. However, because the Texas Attorney General’s child support division is populated by incompetents, I was found to be delinquent when I clearly wasn’t. (In fact, the original letter they sent me said I was behind by more than I could have possibly owed at that point in time!). Two years later, it’s still being garnished, even though the OAG *knows* I’ve never been delinquent.

          1. Partially? Pfft. As one who is obligated to pay child support, I assure you, I’m in the crosshairs.

            Facetious because it’s a parody of the “war on women” fiction peddled by election-time Democrats. Only partially facetious because quite clearly men’s rights are routinely and quietly sacrificed to the fabled Gods of Social Justice. Which really makes the ‘war on women’ claims all the more infuriating.

  6. DWLS is more strongly linked to economics than any other misdemeanor offense.” It frequently occurred because of unpaid tickets, or lack of insurance.

    So park properly and buy insurance. If you are too poor to do these things, maybe you shouldn’t have bought a car.

    1. So park properly and buy insurance. If you are too poor to do these things, maybe you shouldn’t have bought a car.

      Agreed. Setting aside the petty DWLS issues I would prefer the people sharing the road with me are insured. I have nice hefty insurance premiums as it is.

    2. I never want to hear you complain about the regulatory cost of compliance in any other area ever again.

      Fuck you, just obey the rules. If obeying the rules costs money, fuck you, make more money.

      1. Depends on the rules. I happen to think that most parking and car insurance rules are there for a good reason.

        1. I happen to think that most parking and car insurance rules are there for a good reason.

          Oh! Then I will defer to your superior judgment in these matters.

          1. Tony thinks the law forcing non-broke citizens younger than 65 to buy health insurance is there for a good reason, but that does not make it right.

            1. Oh FFS I am not “Tony” and who the hell is talking about health insurance?

              1. Oh FFS I am not “Tony” and who the hell is talking about health insurance?

                Yeah I don’t know that it’s fair to call health insurance, insurance at all. Health insurance carriers are little more than a cartel providing overpriced government welfare benefits.

                Imagine you’re an insurance company insuring houses in a city where eventually, ALL the houses burn to ground within the span of about 65 years, without fail. Adding to that, the city government has placed a chokehold that restricts the development of cheaper building materials, construction techniques, licensing of builders, restrictions on supply of materials et cetera et cetera. Then on the insurance side of things, supplies are also limited and providers are tightly controlled and protected. In order to be given access to the ‘market’, you are given a labyrinthine rulebook that’s literally tens of thousands of pages long telling you exactly how to run your business and that is the price of your membership in the highly limited anti-competitive cartel of permitted insurers.

                Of course consumers will be dissatisfied with shit compensation and generally high prices on all things relating to this industry.

      2. Wouldn’t parking properly and having auto insurance be a part of your personal responsibility when you own a car? Insurance is part of the cost of owning a car, like fuel and maintenance.

        1. There are states with no requirement to maintain insurance.

          While that may or may not be wise, it makes it pretty clear to me that failure to have insurance can’t be the crime of the century.

    3. You didn’t need to have insurance when I lived in Memphis. That was for rich folk (of which I was not one). The rich folk also bought riders on their policies for when they were hit by a uninsured motorist.

      Honestly, if there would have been an insurance requirement in TN at the time, I would have had to break the law since I couldn’t afford insurance as a young single male.

      I was in one accident while driving uninsured and luckily no one was hurt. I dealt with the other driver’s insurance company to come up with a settlement and a payment schedule.

      Afterwards I calculated that I still came out way ahead on the deal. The years I drove with no insurance saved me way more money than I spent on my one accident ever.

      1. The years I drove with no insurance saved me way more money than I spent on my one accident ever.

        Nine out of ten people who go without health insurance say the same thing. Go talk to the tenth guy. Those un- and under-insured motorist “riders” take from me to insure someone else.

        1. Those un- and under-insured motorist “riders” take from me to insure someone else.

          Not at all. That coverage provides you with insurance protection, not the offending party who doesn’t either have insurance or the means to cover potential losses. It does not pay for his medical bills, it pays for yours in the event he fucks you over and doesn’t compensate.

          1. That coverage provides you with insurance protection, not the offending party who doesn’t either have insurance or the means to cover potential losses.

            You contradict yourself. I am the one providing the “means” for an un- or underinsured motorist to cover losses they are at fault for. I have no problem paying for risk I represent.

            1. You contradict yourself. I am the one providing the “means” for an un- or underinsured motorist to cover losses they are at fault for. I have no problem paying for risk I represent.

              No, you are only protecting yourself. If he hurts you, your insurance company pays you and then goes after him for the money. If he can’t pay then he loses everything and goes bankrupt, or maybe has his paychecks garnished. You aren’t providing any means to the guy who hurt you.

            2. I am the one providing the “means” for an un- or underinsured motorist to cover losses they are at fault for. I have no problem paying for risk I represent.

              That insurance protection is for YOU. It offers absolutely NO coverage for the offending party. After the claim is settled, the offending party is no less liable for the damages just because the person they hit was insured against the peril of assholes.

        2. I’m not going to deny anything you said. I would have actually liked to have insurance, but I couldn’t afford it.

          I’m just saying that in this case I identify with the people who get into situations like this and are screwed.

        3. Nine out of ten people who go without health insurance say the same thing. Go talk to the tenth guy. Those un- and under-insured motorist “riders” take from me to insure someone else.

          Then the tenth guy should just declare bankruptcy.

          Viewing insurance as a social product is a collectivist lie. In a free market, my individual insurance purchase is an entirely discrete transaction between myself and my insurer. Your participation, or nonparticipation, is irrelevant. The emergent property of risk pooling is also irrelevant.

          1. correct

      2. The rich folk also bought riders on their policies for when they were hit by a uninsured motorist.

        Almost everyone has Uninsured/Under-insured Motorist coverage. It’s an optional part of the policy and it’s also one of the cheapest parts of a policy.

        Afterwards I calculated that I still came out way ahead on the deal. The years I drove with no insurance saved me way more money than I spent on my one accident ever.

        Have no doubt that the number of anecdotes to the contrary, outnumbers anecdotes of your kind by at least 100 to 1, if not thousands. Lucky no one was hurt indeed.

        I know a guy who got run down, just walking down the sidewalk mind you, run down by a pizza delivery boy driving without insurance. This poor bastard survived and then lost his house and everything he owned to pay his own bills, since the pizza boy nor his employer could be bothered to purchase insurance or even muster some meager compensation.

        1. even muster some meager compensation.

          No wages were garnished? What about the guy’s own health insurance?

          Regardless, how is this any different than someone in a park throwing a football that hits the guy’s head, causing serious injury? There are many ways to accidentally hurt a stranger that don’t involve automobiles. Should we all be forced to buy general liability insurance as a condition for residence?

          1. Oh, its coming.

          2. No wages were garnished? What about the guy’s own health insurance?

            The courts treat cases like this like getting blood from a turnip. The litigants got nothing except a piece of paper from the court saying basically ‘you have the right to garnish wages, have fun with that’. The pizza boy meanwhile can hide assets, work under the table or otherwise skirt his responsibility and after a few years he won’t even have to pretend to face the music. Even still if the pizza boy was forthright with his wages, what help is $100 per month in paying off nearly a million dollars in debt? The pizza boy wasn’t in the wrong simply because he casued an accident and didn’t have insurance to pay compensation. He is in the wrong because he operated car while being completely unable to compensate at all. Insurance is just a means to an end, you could in theory get a bond promising compensation from your own pocket which would be just as valid.

          3. Regardless, how is this any different than someone in a park throwing a football that hits the guy’s head, causing serious injury? There are many ways to accidentally hurt a stranger that don’t involve automobiles.

            Well, one has grossly higher odds of occurring than the other. Throwing a football has nowhere near the destructive potential of driving a 1/3rd ton of steel down the highway. If it did have the same potential, you bet your ass there’d be an insurance product for it. But I’m not sure what your point is.

            Should we all be forced to buy general liability insurance as a condition for residence?

            No, who is arguing that’s the case? Driving on the road is different however. The destructive potential is relatively high and by taking your car on the road it’s not unreasonable that the owner of said road require insurance coverage (however unfortunate we are that the government has virtually monopolized road networks).

        2. Have no doubt that the number of anecdotes to the contrary, outnumbers anecdotes of your kind by at least 100 to 1, if not thousands. Lucky no one was hurt indeed.

          Your math is absolutely absurd.

          The ratio almost certainly runs 100’s to 1 in the other direction.

          If you added up all the individual driver-days during which an individual driver drove while failing to have valid insurance (or a valid license, or a valid inspection) the number of incidents resulting in injury impervious to judgment has to be less than 1 per 100,000 driving days. Has to be.

          1. If you added up all the individual driver-days during which an individual driver drove while failing to have valid insurance (or a valid license, or a valid inspection) the number of incidents resulting in injury impervious to judgment has to be less than 1 per 100,000 driving days. Has to be.

            No, his anecdote was about driving without insurance and getting into an accident which he was fully able to compensate without insurance. The proportion of accidents on the roads wherein an at-fault driver had no insurance but was still somehow able to fully compensate the victim is by an enormously ridiculous margin, in the minority of uninsured/underinsured cases.

            Your logic is absolutely absurd.

        3. Why did not the guy simply refuse to pay the bills? It was not as if those bills were his fault.

  7. It’s a funny dichotomy; conservatives revere LEOs but tout their skepticism about government, meanwhile liberaloids for the most part really resent LEOs while they furiously suck the government’s dick at every turn. Consistency truly eludes the vast majority of people.

      1. I attempted a 2 minute search on a the inverse of that meme but my googling skills have failed me.

        1. All I found was some douchey progtard pictures of prominent Republicans with smug captions like “Wants less government… Wants to ban abortion” or some stupid shit like that.

          1. Yeah that’s all I found, which makes sense since most lefties and Dems can only offer superficial faux criticisms of Republicans, and so memes of quality are more rare.

            1. All the left has is appeals to emotion. Nothing more.

    1. I’ve often thought that if conservatives could realize that cops and soldiers are government employees and liberals could see the government as the biggest corporation out there things would be a whole lot better.

      1. government as the biggest corporation

        It’s the mother of all corporations. But I’m not going to tell them that since it would only muddy the waters, as liberaloids don’t really have working definition of a ‘corporation’ to begin with. Even libertarians are skeptical of criticisms against corporations as criticisms against free enterprise because the word ‘corporation’ is almost always illdefined by those tossing the word around.

        1. When it comes to “limited liability,” governments make private limited liability entities look like sole proprietorships.

          1. Well see now Pro Libertate you’ve delved too deeply and poignantly, and now everyone thinks you’re a Marxist. Way to go.

            1. It’s a common misconception–libertarian, Marxist, Nazi, what’s the difference?

  8. So what will happen with driverless cars?

    Will riding on a road be a privilege like driving? So again we will have to forfeit a shit ton of rights for the ability to ride on a govt road?

    Can the government force you to stop using the roads if you break some rule of theirs? Like bouncing a check? If so, that would mean you couldn’t ride in a bus or a train right?

    In a logical world, I’d think that driverless cars will cause a lot of problems for the statists. In practicality, though, I think we’ll just get a big helping of FYTW court decisions.

    1. I imagine that the cities and state will cripple them with regulation once they start really eating in to the bottom line. Just having a lower speed limit “for safety” would hurt sales for years.

      1. And DUI will remain in force, maybe even with some extra teeth because you’ll need to be sober to take over in an emergency situation. There’s is no way the police and taxis are giving up that sweetest of plums.

        1. Baader-Meinhoff!

        2. Don’t forget drunken robots.

          1. Kiss my shiny metal ass!

      2. I’m also sure that it will still be a DUI to ride in one while drunk too.

        MADD will make sure that drinking in public remains a big no no. They will attempt to justify it by pointing out that in a super emergency the rider might have to take over control of the car and thus be drunk driving. So to prevent that from happening they need to keep the drunks out of the car completely.

      3. I really want a driverless car because I hate driving and I want to drink on my home from work.

        In an ideal world, the fact that the car is fully automated should mean that you can drive faster than the posted speed limit. For example, suppose I am driving through North Dakota on my way out to shoot some birds. With a robot driving I should be able to go 100 mph because the robot has better sensors than my eyes, pays more attention than I do and with no traffic around it why not?

        Instead, like you said, it will slavishly stick to the 70mph speed limit and it will take longer for me to get to Newtown, ND than it does now (because I speed).

        1. You should be able to drive 100 MPH anyway, because the posted speed limits in this country were made for archaic machines that bear only passing resemblance to the incredibly safe racecars each of us can access today.

          1. Posted speed limits in this country are for revenue and nothing more.

            1. Here’s your ticket for $180. Also we’ll be confiscating this $200 cash we found in your car because of drugs or something. Have a nice day, civilian.

              1. Last time I challenged a ticket, it was a big joke. The judge started off by saying that we were all guilty, and then the officer took me into the hallway and told me he’d lie to the judge about calibrating his radar and about the location of the incident. (What he said to me was “I will tell the judge….” and then a bunch of things that were obviously not true. Knowing that the judge would believe the lies, I caved in and paid. When I did he cheerfully announced it to the room. Fucking scum. A bunch of liars who extort money from the people they supposedly serve.)

          2. What sarcasmic said and what KDN said. You are both right.

  9. Good luck changing the law to ease up on suspending poor peoples’ licenses. This is one issue where I actually wrote my state rep thinking he would see the insanity and work to reform the law since he was billed as “a tireless advocate for his constituents and for the equality of each and every Virginian” according to some bullshit conman. But no. This is a matter of public safety which is sacrosanct.

  10. In the world of misdemeanor crimes, many offenses come about because people are impulsive, drug-addicted, cruel or avaricious

    But enough about the cops enforcing these laws with such enthusiasm. What about their victims?

  11. We are as a society so concerned about facially neutral having a “disparate impact” on minorities that an employer can’t give applicants an IQ test because doing so would have a “disparate impact” on minorities. Meanwhile we enormously draconian drug laws that result in hundreds of thousands of minorities being imprisoned every year at a rate much higher than their percentage of society or their propensity to actually use drugs.

    Whenever you hear a Prog ranting about the disproportionate number of black people in prison, just agree with them that that is a bad thing (it certainly is) and then ask them if they would feel better if we threw more white people in prison to make the numbers equal? When the give you a shocked look and say no, then ask them if they are so concerned about the number of black people in prison, why aren’t they trying to repeal some of the laws that put them there? You will be greeted by a lot of hmms and sighing and a quick changing of the subject.

    1. For Progs the solution to anything is always more government force.

      1. They won’t say it, but they have a solution to it. Their solution would be to get rid of equal protection of the law and manipulate sentencing based on race so that prison populations look just like a society. They would happily let most blacks convicted of crimes walk while throwing any white person who so much as jaywalks in state prison if doing so resulted in nice neat numbers proportional to society. That is exactly what they are doing with school discipline and what they would do with the criminal justice system if they had the power to do so.

        1. They won’t stop until Lady Justice’s blindfold is on the floor.

          1. Blindfold? Hell, they’re going for the whole toga.

            1. I have the weirdest boner.

    2. “ask them if they would feel better if we threw more white people in prison to make the numbers equal? When the give you a shocked look and say no..”

      Yours said “no” ???

  12. ” It frequently occurred because of unpaid tickets, or lack of insurance.

    You know who else wants to fine people for lack of insurance?

  13. “I had many clients tell me, ‘I had to keep working to have a chance to raise the money I needed to fix this situation, and in order to work, I had to drive.’ Bam. It’s a DWLS charge waiting to happen.”

    If we only spent more on public transportation… none of this would happen. What say you now, teabaggers?

    1. Why do you not buy a fleet of buses, hire some drivers, and provide it yourself?

      1. And be regulated out of existence? Fuck that.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.