Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Monday he has requested legislation aimed at creating a program allowing Washington drivers to arrange payment plans to pay traffic-based fines. The program is designed to reduce the number of people in the state with suspended driver’s licenses, lower court costs and increase local revenue.
The state's Department of Licensing reports more than 380,000 people in Washington have suspended or revoked driver’s licenses — more than 5% of the state’s population. A large number of suspensions are solely the result of a failure to pay traffic fines.
Ferguson’s plan would bring together law enforcement, the courts and other stakeholders to address the challenges faced by low-income drivers who lose their license because they are unable to pay traffic fines.
Some jurisdictions have attempted to address the problems at the local level, often with success. For example, the Spokane municipal court’s program to facilitate affordable payments has both helped residents and improved court efficiency by increasing revenues through the collection of outstanding fines and monetary obligations.
Under state law, failing to pay a ticket can result in a driver’s license suspension until the fines and penalties are paid or otherwise adjudicated. Local courts have the authority, at their discretion, to enter into payment plans with individuals. However, not all jurisdictions offer payment plans, and when offered, they only allow for the payment of fines and penalties in that particular jurisdiction.
Ferguson’s proposal would allow a driver who owes fines in one or more jurisdictions to negotiate a single payment plan that, if paid timely, would allow the driver to maintain his or her license. The program wouldn't affect the duration of license suspensions made mandatory under the law. The benefits of the proposed payment system would include improved public safety and efficiency in the court system, according to proponents. Studies estimate that approximately 75% of individuals with suspended licenses continue to drive. Without a valid license, these individuals also don't have valid insurance, which creates a risk to public health and safety. The proposed plan to facilitate license reinstatement will allow many of these drivers to be insurable, promoting public safety.
People with outstanding criminal penalties, or those who reoffend, would be ineligible for reinstatement under the program.