Under current NC law, the Division of Motor Vehicles is required to revoke or suspend a driver’s license for failure to pay a traffic fine, penalty or court costs, while driving privileges will remain suspended until the driver pays up or resolves the issue.

According to the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office, of the 1.3 million people who have suspended driver’s licenses in North Carolina, 21 percent are for failing to pay traffic fines or court fees while 66 percent are for failure to appear in court. In North Carolina, traffic fines and court costs can add up quickly. Failure to appear in court costs $200 and failure to comply is another $50.

In 2015, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill started a license-restoration program called Community Outreach, but it was offered infrequently due to the labor-intensive work required.

Now, with a city-funded program called the Driver’s Restoration Initiative and Vocational Expansion, or the DRIVE Program, those services can be offered year-round.

Funded by $300,000 of American Rescue Plan Act dollars in November 2022, DRIVE is available to everyone in the county.

DRIVE has helped serve nearly 600 people since May 2023, Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin told city councilmembers last week. The program helps people facing financial hardship who have lost their licenses, and their staff reviews a lot of factors such as Medicaid, rent stubs or child support costs, Martin said. They are also understanding of the hurdles life throws. People may not have been able to get time off for their court date due to work or childcare.

According to research from Duke University, 56,861 people in Forsyth County had suspended licenses in 2020. That’s nearly 15 percent of the county’s 382,590 residents, per the 2020 census. 

In a 2021 interview with Triad City Beat, Greensboro city employee Dana Daughtry faced mounting costs. Outstanding fines from traffic tickets Daughtry had gotten in Virginia kept him from getting his license back, which was a requirement for the job.

“I think that starting out, the original fines were for $600, but by the time I was able to start paying them, I wound up paying about $2,600,” Daughtry said.

According to the data from Duke, Guilford County had 74,441 actively suspended drivers in 2020.

In North Carolina, people have 40 days to pay fines and court costs from the time a district court judge finds them guilty of traffic violations. If they don’t pay, the DMV will revoke their license. If someone fails to appear in court, after 20 days the DMV will suspend their license indefinitely until they resolve the case

‘You have to have transportation’

A 2015 report from the New York Times on traffic stops and arrests in Greensboro indicates that race is also a factor in the doling out of tickets. 

“Most black Greensboro drivers were stopped for regulatory or equipment violations, infractions that officers have the discretion to ignore,” the article states, continuing, “[B]lack motorists who were stopped were let go with no police action — not even a warning — more often than were whites. Criminal justice experts say that raises questions about why they were pulled over at all and can indicate racial profiling.” 

Studies have found that racial and ethnic minorities are more likely than white drivers to be pulled over by the police for “alleged traffic infractions, including a combination of speeding and equipment violations.”

“We are not incentivizing not paying for your tickets, we are not incentivizing not coming to court,” Martin said. However, they have “come to recognize” that unpaid tickets make it difficult for people to apply for jobs and live comfortable lives.

To access good jobs, “you have to have transportation,” Councilmember Annette Scippio commented, adding, “That stress of not having a license is just overwhelming.”

When people are faced with the choice of paying for rent, groceries or a traffic ticket, “it’s a traffic ticket you’re not going to pay,” Martin said.

Many people who do not have a driver’s license will continue to drive, Martin said, because they have to get to work and take care of their children. Public transportation is limited on the weekends and evenings,

“That presents a public safety issue for law enforcement, because oftentimes people who do not have a driver’s license will run,” Martin said. 

Unlicensed drivers can face steep fines or be sent to jail

“They are afraid to stop,” Martin added.

Once the judge reduces or waives their fines, Martin said that they ask people to come back and prove that they’ve gotten their driver’s license.

Martin said, “We have to have justice, but it has to be tempered with mercy.”

Martin added that another reason people may avoid dealing with their driver’s license woes is because “they may have a ticket in another county and they don’t have this program.” But the DRIVE Program has piqued interest in local attorneys who have offered pro bono assistance if people have tickets in other counties such as Guilford County, Martin said. 

Martin noted that their current funding should last another year and a half.

En español

Bajo la ley actual de Carolina del Norte, la División de Vehículos Motorizados está obligada a revocar o suspender la licencia de conducir por no pagar una multa de tráfico, una penalización o costos judiciales, mientras que los privilegios de conducción permanecerán suspendidos hasta que el conductor pague o resuelva el problema.

Según la oficina del Fiscal del Distrito del Condado de Forsyth, de los 1.3 millones de personas con licencias de conducir suspendidas en Carolina del Norte, el 21 por ciento se debe a la falta de pago de multas de tráfico o tarifas judiciales, mientras que el 66 por ciento se debe a no comparecer en la corte. En Carolina del Norte, las multas de tráfico y los costos judiciales pueden acumularse rápidamente. No comparecer en la corte cuesta $200 y no cumplir conlleva otros $50.

En 2015, el Fiscal del Distrito del Condado de Forsyth, Jim O’Neill, inició un programa de restauración de licencias llamado Community Outreach, pero se ofrecía con poca frecuencia debido al trabajo intensivo requerido. Ahora, con un programa financiado por la ciudad llamado Iniciativa de Restauración de Conductores y Expansión Vocacional, o el Programa DRIVE, esos servicios pueden ofrecerse durante todo el año.

Con fondos de $300,000 del Plan de Rescate Estadounidense en noviembre de 2022, DRIVE está disponible para todos en el condado. DRIVE ha ayudado a atender a casi 600 personas desde mayo de 2023, dijo la fiscal de distrito adjunta en jefe, Jennifer Martin, a los concejales de la ciudad la semana pasada. El programa ayuda a personas que enfrentan dificultades financieras y han perdido sus licencias, y su personal revisa muchos factores como Medicaid, talones de pago de alquiler o costos de manutención de hijos. También comprenden los obstáculos que la vida presenta, ya que las personas pueden no haber podido obtener tiempo libre para su fecha de corte debido al trabajo o al cuidado de niños.

Según la investigación de la Universidad de Duke, 56,861 personas en el Condado de Forsyth tenían licencias suspendidas en 2020, casi el 15 por ciento de los residentes del condado según el censo de 2020.

En una entrevista de 2021 con Triad City Beat, Dana Daughtry, empleada de la ciudad de Greensboro, se enfrentó a costos crecientes. Multas pendientes de boletos de tráfico que Daughtry había recibido en Virginia le impidieron recuperar su licencia, un requisito para el trabajo.

“Creo que al principio, las multas originales eran de $600, pero para cuando pude comenzar a pagarlas, terminé pagando alrededor de $2,600”, dijo Daughtry.

Según los datos de la Universidad de Duke, en 2020 el Condado de Guilford tenía 74,441 conductores con licencias suspendidas de manera activa.

En Carolina del Norte, las personas tienen 40 días para pagar multas y costos judiciales desde el momento en que un juez de tribunal de distrito las declara culpables de infracciones de tráfico. Si no pagan, el DMV revocará su licencia. Si alguien no se presenta en la corte, después de 20 días, el DMV suspenderá su licencia indefinidamente hasta que resuelvan el caso.

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