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Keeping or Reinstating Your Driver’s License

Some states suspend drivers’ licenses for non-payment of traffic fines as well as other criminal justice debts. There is a national advocacy campaign (www.freetodrive.org/) to stop this practice of suspending licenses for unpaid debts, and many states have recently changed or are considering changing their laws, but unfortunately others have not. In many states, driving with a suspended license is a misdemeanor offense that can lead to a criminal conviction, violation of probation or parole, and additional fines and fees. These costs can quickly snowball and can be very difficult to pay back without a valid driver’s license.

In some states, you can prevent having your license suspended in the first place by getting onto a payment plan, getting the debt waived or reduced to an amount you can afford, or demonstrating that the reason you have not paid a debt is because you cannot afford to pay it. Unfortunately, in other states, the process of suspending a license is pretty automatic once you get behind on payment of a fine or fee.

Reinstating a suspended driver’s license can be an onerous process. Some states keep a suspension in place until you have either made full payment on all your criminal justice debts owed to the state or entered into a payment plan to do so. Some states also charge an additional reinstatement fee.

Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state to find out what resulted in your license being suspended and how to go about getting the license reinstated. Using this information, contact the appropriate court or state agency to whom the debt is owed. Ask how much you owe and whether you are eligible for a debt waiver or reduction, a payment plan, or payment alternatives like community service. If interest was accruing on the debt while you were incarcerated, ask to have the interest charges waived.

If your court debt is related to probation, parole, or a suspended jail sentence, you may want to check with a criminal defense attorney before contacting the court on your own. Although unlikely, it is possible that contacting the court about unpaid court debt could lead the court to take enforcement action against you.