Tzedek DC supports bill introduced in DC Council to end automatic suspension of low-income drivers’ licenses for unpaid debts

Contact: Sarah Hollender,

Washington, D.C., December 7, 2017 — D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman earlier this week introduced legislation that would end the automatic suspension of low-income residents’ driver’s licenses for the nonpayment of tickets and certain kinds of court debt. The Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017 would end the city’s current practice of suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay debts as low as $100 from parking tickets, traffic tickets, or certain court judgments.

Existing District law allows the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to suspend a person’s driver’s license for any unpaid government-issued ticket over $100, only reinstating the license once the bill, including any added fees, is paid. The legislation introduced this week aims to protect lower-income residents and working families who are not able to pay the ticket by setting income limits for license suspensions, reinstating licenses for eligible residents, and ending license suspensions as a tool for private debt collection.

Including Councilmember Silverman, six of the thirteen DC Councilmembers co-introduced or co-sponsored the bill. Co-introducers included At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray, and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White. At-Large Councilmember David Grosso was a co-sponsor. The bill was referred to the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment.

Ariel Levinson-Waldman, President and Director-Counsel of Tzedek DC, said:

“Suspending DC residents’ driver’s licenses for nonpayment of debt is unfair, counter-productive, and legally problematic.  Tzedek DC thanks Councilmember Silverman and each of her Council colleagues working to advance the changes embodied in the bill.  We will continue to work with the Council and our coalition partners in advocating for these protections. 

It is time to end this irrational and harmful practice. Suspending low-income DC residents’ licenses makes them less able to afford their debt, and, importantly, increases their risk of exposure to criminal charges for driving without a license when they must drive a car for critical life tasks.  Not surprisingly, many low-income DC residents are arrested and charged for driving without a license, a criminal charge that carries a punishment of up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine for the first offense.  Suspension doesn’t just perpetuate poverty.  It criminalizes it.” 


For links to further background on the issue of drivers license suspension reform: