New York Law School helps to end license suspensions that affects communities and people of color

The Racial Justice Project at New York Law School helped bring to light a problem that the New York Legislature recently addressed. It passed a Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act that was designed to make traffic violations issued to people of color more comparable to White communities.  

In February, NYLS’s Racial Justice Project published an influential report on the racial disparities in traffic enforcement across New York. It found that people of color are more likely to be stopped, ticketed, arrested, charged and convicted for traffic violations.  

The report states, “traffic debt suspensions disproportionately harm communities of color in New York. Traffic debt suspensions force people to make an impossible choice: stop driving—and lose access to work, childcare, health care, food, and other basic necessities—or keep driving, and risk criminal charges, more unaffordable fines and fees, and even incarceration.” 

In its report, the Racial Justice Project concluded that over a two year span the state of New York issued 1.7 million driver license suspensions for not paying traffic tickets or not appearing in traffic court to contest them. However, people of color were two and a half times more likely to get their license suspended than drivers who lived in zip codes with primarily white populations. 

“For these reasons, the New York Law School (NYLS) Racial Justice Project urges New York lawmakers to support the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act (Senate Bill S5348A), which would end suspensions for nonpayments of traffic tickets and nonappearances in traffic court, practices which unduly target and harm communities of color,” the report reads.  

On July 22, Senate Bill S5348A was passed in a 39-21 vote. According to the bill, The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act will limit the grounds for the suspension of a driver's license; provide additional notifications when a person is required to make an appearance; requires income based payment plans to be available for fines, fees and mandatory surcharges incurred as a result of a violation of the vehicle and traffic law and makes conforming changes. 

“I applaud state lawmakers for their efforts to repair New York’s broken driver’s license suspension system,” said Professor Alvin Bragg, Co-Director of NYLS’s Racial Justice Project. “Every year, thousands of New Yorkers have their driver’s licenses suspended—not because they are unsafe drivers, but simply because they cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees. This burden unfairly falls on communities of color, fueling economic disparities and mass incarceration.”

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