Janice, an Air Force veteran, knows the hardship of living with a driver’s license suspended for unpaid traffic tickets. She cannot get a higher-paying job as a caseworker working with people leaving the criminal justice system that would enable her to pay her tickets and move on with her life. Even if Janice could get the job, she wouldn’t be able to perform it without a driver’s license. It would literally take her hours each day, at a minimum, to travel by foot and bus to the homes of clients spread out across three counties that span forty miles.
Before banning people from the roads for unpaid tickets, the South Carolina DMV doesn’t provide a hearing or notice of how to avoid suspension when a person can’t pay. In fact, the DMV does not determine whether people actually have the money to pay. The result is a wealth-based system in which a suspension ends only when a person pays in full all traffic fines and additional DMV fees charged for having a suspended license. This means impoverished people lose their ability to drive—which they need to find and keep their jobs—unless they divert money from rent, utilities, health care, and other needs to pay for their driver’s licenses.
To make matters worse, neither the DMV nor the South Carolina Office of Motor Vehicle Hearings (OMVH)—the only state agency with the power to review suspensions—provides any hearing at which a person can explain that their driver’s license should not be suspended because they cannot pay. Figuring out how to request a hearing is a byzantine process that a layperson cannot hope to navigate. Moreover, when the ACLU submitted a request for Janice, the OMVH responded by saying that she would have to pay an additional $800 just to get a hearing.
For more information: https://www.aclu.org/cases/white-v-shwedo