State effort to eliminate driver's license suspensions gets local support

Sep 10, 2019

A campaign advocating for a more equitable way to pay driving tickets and avoiding license suspensions kicked off Tuesday all across the country. The Free to Drive Campaign began with an event in Washington, D.C. while similar events happened across New York State.

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

Locally, Senator Tim Kennedy and area advocacy groups met in downtown Buffalo where Kennedy announced his sponsorship of a bill that would make paying traffic tickets more feasible for motorists.

According to the Driven by Justice Coalition, over 1.6 million suspensions due to traffic debt were issued to New Yorker’s over a 28-month span. Kennedy said the suspensions are not equitable and poor people are punished for being poor.

“Driver’s license suspension rates are nearly nine times higher in the ten poorest communities across New York State,” he said. “Compared to the ten wealthiest.”

Along with the poor, Kennedy said people of color are ticketed and suspended at four times the rate of whites, especially in the City of Buffalo which added thirteen new fees last summer.

Kennedy said the solution is not in eliminating a motorist’s obligation to pay fines, but to install payment plans so those motorists will not get their licenses suspended.

Pastor George Nicholas is part of the Fair Fines and Fees Coalition said the coalition is committed to easing the financial burden on the most vulnerable.

“The last thing we need for that person who is struggling, is to have their car towed, and now they can’t get to work and now they’re going to lose their job,” he said. “It just continues to create suffering for people who can handle it the least.”

Kennedy and Assembly Member Pamela Hunter of Syracuse are co-sponsoring the bill. It passed in the Senate last session but still needs to pass in the Assembly.