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No more license suspensions for unpaid tickets

Published: Jul. 5, 2021 at 11:42 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - If you have unpaid traffic fines and fees, you no longer have to worry about your license being suspended.

The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act took effect last week, after being passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo.

It ends the long-standing practice in New York state of suspending a person’s license for unpaid fines and fees.

“This problem was affecting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” said Katie Adamides, New York state director of the group Fines and Fees Justice Center.

“It used to be that if you didn’t have the money to pay in full, up front, then your driver’s license was suspended, and then if you drive with a suspension, that’s a crime,” she said.

“You do it enough times, it’s a felony. It was a fast track for criminalizing poverty and we’re really glad to see it end.”

“We saw a cycle of punishment and poverty that disproportionately affected our low income communities, and our communities of color,” she said.

Now, you have to be given the option of a payment plan, amounting to as little as $25 a month.

You still have to answer a traffic ticket, though the Department of Motor Vehicles is required to give more notice before it suspends your license.

“If you answer and just don’t have the money, you don’t have to get a suspension. You can still get through the system,” Adamides said.

Anyone whose license was suspended for non-payment before June 29 should see the suspension lifted.

Adamides said last week that she was getting a lot of emails from people saying that Department of Motor Vehicles workers were unaware of the new law. She said she’s hopeful that will change and “this will eventually become routine.”

Jefferson County District Attorney Kristyna Mills agreed that “we should not prosecute the poor for being poor.”

But Mills has reservations about the change.

“What concerns me is you have individuals who simply don’t want to pay the fines and this benefits them as well. There is no teeth to the system allowing for fine collections for those individuals,” she said.

She also said she believes the courts “are going to have a very hard time getting people to pay fines.”

Importantly, you can still have your license suspended if you have too many points on your license, or are convicted of driving under the influence, or simply fail to answer your traffic tickets, even after being notified repeatedly.

If you want to know whether the new law applies to you, you can contact the Department of Motor Vehicles at 800-698-2931.

Find more information about the new law at: https://finesandfeesjusticecenter.org/content/uploads/2021/06/FAQ_Drivers-License-Suspension-Reform-Act_Driven-by-Justice-campaign-1.pdf.

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