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Chicago Policy

Lori’s Proposal to End License Suspensions for Non-Moving Violations Is a Good Idea

Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Many types of lawbreaking by motorists pose a serious threat to public safety, including speeding, running red lights and stop signs, failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and intoxicated and distracted driving. In many cases it may make sense to suspend a driver's license, in order to provide a major disincentive to such behavior, and help keep the most dangerous drivers off the road.

However, with a few exceptions such as blocking crosswalks and bike lanes, non-moving violations by drivers don't endanger other people. Moreover, recent studies have found that that Chicago's motorist ticketing policies have disproportionately burdened low-income residents and people of color, and often trap Chicagoans in a downward economic spiral. Therefore Mayor Lori Lightfoot's proposal yesterday to end the the suspension of driver's licenses over unpaid parking tickets, along with other ticketing reforms, makes a lot of sense.

As reported by Melissa Sanchez and Elliot Ramos from ProPublica and WBEZ, who broke the story of ticketing discrepancies on the South and West sides last year, Lightfoot's Tuesday plan includes several changes to Chicago's ticketing and debt collection practices. In the wake of their original report, a coalition community groups advocated for reform, and the issue became a hot topic during the last mayoral election, with all candidates promising to tackle the problem, and Lightfoot including ticketing reform in her transportation platform.

“We know [current ticketing policies hurt] Black and Brown families the most,” Lightfoot said at a West Side press conference yesterday. “It doesn’t make sense to punish people for not paying for their fines by taking away their ability to pay their fines.”

The mayor's plans were scheduled to be presented to City Council today, but aren't expected to be approved until September. They include steps to make city-sponsored payment plans a more attractive alternative for drivers than declaring bankruptcy. The proposal also includes reducing late fees for city sticker tickets, and some debt relief for drivers who eventually purchase the stickers.

Sanchez and Ramos reported yesterday that Lightfoot is also promising to support a state bill to end license suspensions due to unpaid parking tickets, which could benefit people across Illinois. As it stands, ten unpaid parking tickets can lead to a driver’s license suspension, and about 55,000 licenses are currently suspended in our state, according to the Illinois secretary of state's office. ProPublica found that the vast majority of these suspensions are occurring in low-income Black communities in Chicago and its suburbs.

The state legislation would retroactively restore driving privileges to residents with parking debt, which would make it easier for them to earn money to address their debt. However, appropriately, it would not rescind license suspensions due to speeding or red light violations, which do endanger other people.

Read more details about Lightfoot's proposal in the ProPublica report, and view the full document here.

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