Vermont taking steps to reduce the number of drivers with suspended licenses

By Bill Holloway

The Vermont Agency of Transportation is working to reduce the number of state residents with suspended licenses. As reported by Vermont Public Radio, there are about 30,000 Vermonters with suspended licenses at any time in the state with 626,000 people. The majority of these suspensions are the result of unpaid fines, both for driving infractions as well as for offenses unrelated to driving, such as non-payment of child support or underage possession of alcohol or tobacco. VTrans is tackling the issue of driver’s license suspension for two primary reasons: to end the cycle of job loss and poverty among low-income people who lose their driving privileges, and to reduce the number of people driving with suspended licenses, and thus without insurance.

In March, the state held a one-day amnesty program, which allowed residents who had received citations in five counties around Burlington to pay all delinquent tickets for $20 apiece, excluding those issued for certain serious offenses, such as DUI. The program may be expanded to cover citations issued in other parts of the state. To develop a more sustainable solution to the problem, Vermont Secretary of Transportation Sue Minter recently assembled a driver restoration task force, which will develop a set of legislative reform recommendations that will be unveiled in the fall.

While Vermont is grappling with the issue of driver’s license suspension, it is a nationwide problem. According to a 2009 NHTSA report, all 50 states and Washington, D.C. have laws permitting license suspension for reasons unrelated to driving, and there are eight states where at least 10% of all licensed drivers are suspended. A number of studies have found that a large percentage of suspended drivers continue to drive despite the suspension. Two 2002 studies, in Michigan and New Jersey, found that about 25% of suspended drivers were later convicted of driving while suspended.

Given the widespread nature of the problem, other states will be keeping a close eye on Vermont as it works to reform its driver’s license suspension policies.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.