You may not generally think of it this way, but an unpaid fine for a traffic ticket can have a huge impact on a person’s life, particularly if you’re poor, or homeless, or live in a rural area, or are a person of color.
That makes sense. If you’re at the low end of the economic ladder, a fine for a traffic ticket can be difficult to pay for in short order.
But the state of Oregon can also suspend your license if you do not or cannot pay the fines for tickets you’ve received within 60 days. And if that happens, a whole new and larger can of worms opens up.
With no car, you may have trouble getting to work, particularly if there’s no comprehensive public transit system available. Looking for a job becomes more difficult, and if a child is ill, getting to the doctor may be a problem. If you’re homeless and living in your car, your difficulties are magnified.
House Bill 4065 would end the practice of suspending a driver’s license for failing to pay a traffic ticket, but it would not make the debt go away. Police agencies could still go after a person’s money with the help of a collection agency, or by garnishing his or her paycheck or by taking what’s owed from a person’s tax return.
According to information given at a hearing on the measure before the House Committee on the Judiciary on Feb. 5, some 100,000 Oregonians lost driver licenses for failing to pay fines promptly in 2019. And, while black motorists were stopped about 2.6% of the time, about equal to their representation in Oregon’s population, they made up more than 13% of the group with suspended licenses. Whites, by contrast, made up 80% of stops but less than 6% of suspended licenses.
There are hardship licenses available for those with suspended licenses, but they cost $125 — out of reach for too many Oregonians.
Oregon has an above average poverty rate, according to the World Population Review, and suspending a license for failure to pay a fine on time only makes matters worse. HB 4065 changes that and it should be approved.