State law must prohibit courts from referring licenses to the DMV for suspension because of failure to pay or appear on infraction violations, and must restore driver’s licenses for people who only have suspensions because they could not pay or appear. This change would significantly mitigate the racial disparities in suspensions and arrests for traffic or infraction debt. It would also eliminate both the financial cost and societal harm of police officers and courts acting as debt collection agents by arresting and punishing people—disproportionately people of color—for driving without paying a ticket
Furthermore, courts must not issue arrest warrants for failure to appear or failure to pay infraction fines. Where the underlying issue is debt collection rather than public safety, it is counterproductive to divert public safety resources to these types of arrests.
Courts must adopt processes to meaningfully assess an individual’s ability to pay for infraction violations. Total fine amounts should be reduced. The back-door regressive tax of add-on fees and penalty assessments to traffic tickets must be cut, in part by changing state law. Prior infraction debts for people on public assistance should be forgiven.
Policies must be implemented to reduce bias and its impact on police behavior. There must be a focus on community protection, with full data transparency and a requirement that officers obtain written consent before conducting a search, particularly in zip codes with particularly high license suspension disparities. Finally, there must be a reduction of non-safety related citations in low-income communities of color, especially of “quality of life” violations that are disparately given to homeless people and people of color.