Unpaid Tickets Will No Longer Suspend Licenses Under New Bill

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(Renee Schiavone/Patch)

Charles Woodman, Patch Staff

OLYMPIA, WA — Washington will stop suspending driver's licenses just because a driver has not paid a traffic ticket, under a new bill that recently made its way through the state legislature.

Currently, drivers who received traffic infractions either have to pay the full amount, request a hearing to contest or lower the cost of a ticket, or forfeit their license by not paying.
That will change starting in 2023 thanks to Senate Bill 5226, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Monday. When it does, drivers will have a new option: admit responsibility for the ticket, and request a payment plan to repay the ticket over time without losing their driver's license.
Supporters say, this will help lower income residents who previously would have simply lost their licenses over their inability to pay.
"Suspending a driver's license just because a person cannot pay a fine is quite simply penalizing poverty," said Antonio Ginatta, policy director at Columbia Legal Services in a prepared statement. "A driver's license is indispensable, often necessary to get to work, to get to doctor's appointments, or to drive your kids to school. There are smarter, fairer, and more reasonable ways to make sure someone pays their traffic ticket than to take away their ability to drive."

A driver could still lose their license, even after setting up a payment plan, if they do not pay and skip a hearing on the issue. Drivers will also still lose their licenses for 60 days if they have three traffic violations in one year, or four in a two-year period. After the 60-day suspension and taking a safe driving course, they're put on a year's probation and would lose their license for another month after any other infractions.
Supporters say the new legislation strikes a better balance holding drivers responsible for their actions, but without unfairly punishing poorer Washingtonians.
"This bill is the long-awaited first step in stopping the practice of suspending driver's license suspensions for reasons related to poverty," Ginatta said.

The bill also allows the Department of Licensing (DOL) to begin reinstating the licenses of anyone who had theirs suspended in the past because they failed to pay a ticket. Once it goes into effect in 2023, the DOL will have 90 days to set up an online portal where those drivers can request to have their licenses reinstated.

>> Read the Legislature's Final Bill Report on SB 5226.

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