Traffic Debt Keeps Thousands of Low-Income Drivers Off The Road In Tennessee

Over the last five years, 250,000 Tennesseans have lost the right to drive legally. That’s the result of an uncommon state law that makes license suspensions mandatory if drivers can’t afford to pay court fees and traffic fines.

News Story (Tennessee)

Julieta Martinelli
WPLN (Nashville Public Radio)
October 2, 2017

Tags: Debtors Prison, Driver's license suspension

Organizations mentioned/involved: Just City (Memphis), Equal Justice Under Law (DC), Legal Aid Justice Center (Virginia)


The lawsuit highlights Rutherford County, where almost 9,000 licenses were suspended due to non payment over five years. Wilson county, with just over 4,000 suspensions, is also a defendant. The suit alleges that clerks routinely failed to inform people they could apply for restricted licenses.

Both counties, as well as the cities of Lebanon and Mt. Juliet, their clerks, and the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety are defendants in the lawsuit. It was filed by legal firm Baker Donelson, Civil Rights Corps, Just City, and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. They are seeking federal class action lawsuit status.