Stop New Hampshire’s irrational overuse of driver license suspensions
Non-driving related suspensions have an unnecessary economic impact
A driver’s license is pivotal to everyday life in rural New Hampshire.
People need licenses to get to work, to take care of their families, and to access medical care. Suspending driver’s licenses for non-driving related reasons jeopardizes these everyday, necessary activities. These suspensions also hurt businesses by making it difficult for workers to get to their jobs and continue providing for their families without risking getting arrested for driving on a suspended license. These consequences are particularly troublesome for a state with an acute labor shortage.
Yet New Hampshire routinely suspends drivers’ licenses for non-driving related reasons. Granite Staters can have their drivers’ licenses suspended for “moral impairment,” for not showing up to a court appearance or for not paying a fine, even when none of these have to do with driving.
The overuse of license suspensions simply is not common sense. Why suspend someone’s driver’s license for behavior that has nothing to do with driving – and is most often non-criminal? If someone fails to show up to court, why suspend their most reliable method of transport? If someone fails to pay a fine, why suspend their means to reach work where they would earn the money to pay the fine?
Evidence from other cities and states indicates that ending non-driving related license suspensions actually increases revenues by reducing these practical obstacles to work and repayment. Moreover, ending these suspensions saves law enforcement and administrative time and resources otherwise spent processing and enforcing such suspensions.
New Hampshire is not alone in suspending licenses as a method of punishing people for non-driving related conduct. Neither is New Hampshire alone in proposing legislation to change this.
Seven states and the District of Columbia have recently enacted legislation to restrict driver’s license suspensions for unpaid debt, including Idaho, Montana, Mississippi and Texas. A handful of additional states are poised to take up such legislation in 2020.
In New Hampshire, Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, is sponsoring legislation to reduce the non-driving related reasons for suspending drivers’ licenses. This bipartisan legislation builds on the Legislature’s work in recent years to end fine and fee-based incarceration and other policies that disproportionately harm people with little economic means.
It’s difficult enough to pay the plethora of fines in the criminal justice system, take time off of work for a court date, and arrange resulting childcare and other accommodations with little economic resources. It’s even harder when you can’t drive.
Failing to pay a fine or missing a court date are problems that the state has an understandable interest in solving. However, the government should impose consequences that make sense and are not counterproductive. Suspending drivers’ licenses for non-driving related reasons does not make us safer, but it does carry a host of collateral consequences for families and communities, which cost the government money and impair public safety.
Our state can do better. New Hampshire should join with the growing number of states severing the illogical reliance on license suspensions for non-driving related reasons.
Jeanne Hruska the political director for the ACLU of New Hampshire. Ross Connolly is deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity in New Hampshire.