Punished for Being Poor

The Virginia scheme that suspends the driver’s license of anyone who can’t pay trivial fines.
Column (Virginia)

Dahlia Lithwick
July 16, 2016

Tags: Driver's license suspension

Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Aid Justice Center (Virginia)


In Virginia, more than 900.000 people have lost their driver’s licenses because they couldn’t pay the court fees associated with having them restored. That means that indigent people who may have been pulled over for the most minor of infractions can lose their license unless they pay stiff penalties.

Research has shown that most drivers with suspended or revoked licenses—including those who have lost licenses because of failure to pay a fine—keep driving anyhow, usually because there is no alternative way to get to work, take children to school, or make medical appointments. If these individuals are caught driving on a suspended license in Virginia, that is punishable by a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500, which just pushes the already impoverished deeper into poverty.