The Spiraling Consequences of Traffic Tickets and Driving While Suspended

Last week, National Public Radio ran an excellent news story on the effect of suspending driver’s licenses on the poor. “How Driver’s License Suspensions Unfairly Target The Poor” discusses how driver’s often get their licenses suspended due to failure to pay a court cost or fine, or another relatively minor offense, which can result in the long-term loss of driving privileges:

The most common way that people lose their driver’s license in Wisconsin is not for drunken driving or other unsafe driving. It’s for failure to pay the fine on a ticket for a nonmoving traffic offense. Those make up 56 percent of all license suspensions in the state, according to statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Nationwide, the numbers are similar: About 40 percent of suspensions are for unpaid traffic tickets, and for things like not paying child support, or getting caught with drugs — things that have nothing to do with unsafe driving, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Once their license is suspended, people often continue to drive, and end up getting arrested for driving while suspended, a much more serious charge. This can lead to jail time or more and higher fines. For people who got into the situation in the first place due to their inability to pay, this creates a downward spiral that can be hard to escape.

While, as NPR pointed out, this system disproportionately effects those who cannot afford to pay their fines, anyone can get swept up in it: forgetting a court date or a fine can result in the suspension of a license, and if that is not taken care of, a driving while suspended charge. Because our firm practices in the area of traffic law, we regularly see clients facing such charges. The easiest way to avoid the downward spiral is to get off at the top.

Anyone who receives a traffic ticket should consider contacting a lawyer (once they are somewhere where it is safe and legal to call or go online), especially if they live in a state with a points system (like Missouri) where convictions on traffic offenses add points to their license, which can also result in getting their license suspended. They can even get points by paying the ticket online or over the phone, which is considered a guilty plea to the charge. Although hiring a lawyer is an additional expense, it is far less expensive then the potential effects of having one’s license suspended.

Once charged with Driving While Suspended, it becomes essential to have an attorney. Both Kansas and Missouri these charges very seriously. In Missouri, you will receive 12 points on your license, which will result in the license being suspended for a year (note that this will happen to Missouri driver’s license holders, regardless of where the conviction occurs), and the conviction can result in jail time. In Kansas, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of five consecutive days jail if you are convicted. However, with the assistance of an attorney, it may be possible to negotiate an amended charge or some form of probation, or, in some circumstances, contest the charge.

Whether facing a serious charge driving while suspended or a simple speeding ticket, having an attorney can help protect a defendant’s rights and help level the playing field against experienced prosecutors who try countless cases per day.