Read Marques Banks’ Testimony to the DC Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment Regarding the “Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017”


The “Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017” (22-0618) 

Testimony of
Marques Banks, Equal Justice Works Fellow
Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

Thank you for this opportunity to provide written testimony regarding the proposed “Driver’s License Revocation Fairness Amendment Act of 2017” (B22-0618). For nearly fifty years, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (“the Lawyers’ Committee”) has addressed issues of discrimination, racial injustice, and entrenched poverty through litigation and policy advocacy.

The Lawyers’ Committee applauds this Committee for moving forward on this bill. Your action on the Traffic and Parking Ticket Penalty Amendment Act of 2018, which ends suspension of drivers’ licenses for unpaid traffic tickets and for the failure to attend a traffic hearing, will likely lead to important reform that will alleviate significant and unnecessary hardship for some of our most vulnerable residents. Passage of that bill will mean that our neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet and desperately need to drive to work, doctors, and grocery stores, or to care for family members, will no longer risk criminal penalties for driving without a license simply because they could not pay a fine. Thank you for sending that Act to the full Council.

We urge this Committee to continue its work toward the elimination of laws that use driver’s license suspensions as leverage to extort payment for debt. The next step in that important reform process is to prevent private insurance companies from using driver’s license suspensions as a method for coercing settlements or enforcing judgments. We endorse the testimony of Tzedek DC and others who have explained in detail the significant problems with existing law.

Rejection of practices that coerce payments by suspending licenses, such as the provision currently before the Committee, places DC in the vanguard of states that are moving in that direction. For example, new laws in California and Illinois have eliminated the automatic suspension of licenses for failure to pay fines. Instead, these laws allow motorists to seek alternative forms of payment such as community service in lieu of monetary payment. An increasing number of lawsuits have been filed across the country challenging suspension of driving privileges as a response to the inability to pay fines. Just a few days ago, a federal court I Tennessee ruled that suspending licenses for failure to pay court costs without procedural safeguards to determine a person’s ability to pay is unconstitutional.

The Lawyers’ Committee is particularly concerned about suspension of licenses to obtain payment of debt because such practices have a demonstrated disproportionate impact on persons of color. For example, a 2015 study showed that in Virginia African-Americans represented nearly 50 percent of the drivers who had their license revoked for failure to pay, despite the fact that they were 22 percent of the population.[1] In San Francisco, African-Americans represent 48 percent of the drivers whose licenses were suspended in 2015, even though African-Americans comprised only 5 percent of San Francisco’s population.[2]

DC is no exception. Between 2011 and 2016, 80 percent of DC drivers who lost their license for failure to pay were African-American. This is not surprising, given the fact that the poverty rate for Black residents is approximately 27.9 percent four times higher than the 7.9% rate for white District residents. In DC, Black families earn less than a third of their white counterparts. [3] Loss of a driver’s license is particularly harsh in DC, given the additional transportation challenges facing these low-income residents. For example:

  • Rising housing costs have pushed low-income residents into areas with limited metro access.
  • “Food deserts” In Wards 7 and 8 – the poorest in the City — require individuals to travel out of their neighborhoods for groceries.[4]
  • It is difficult for DC residents to find jobs near public transportation when more than half of jobs in the metro area are not accessible to public transportation within 90 minutes or less.[5]

In sum, driver’s licenses are often critical if our neighbors are going to meet their most fundamental needs. Eliminating the use of license suspensions as a method for coercing payment for debt for persons who lack the ability to pay will avoid adding unnecessary hardship to the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors and increase their opportunities to live safe and healthy lives.

Thank you for the giving the Lawyers’ Committee the opportunity to testify on this important issue. Please contact the undersigned if you have questions or would like further information.

Marques Banks
Equal Justice Works Fellow
Washington Lawyers’ Committee
for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
[email protected]
202-319-1000 ext. 131
Jonathan Smith
Executive Director
Washington Lawyers’ Committee
for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
[email protected]
202-319-1000 ext. 101

[1] Millions of drivers lost their licenses for failing to pay court fees, study finds

Justin Moyer –

[2] Race and class disparities in driver’s license suspension and consequences in California

[3] Report: Minorities, Poor Residents More Likely to Have Their Driver’s License Suspended

[4] Report: More Than 11 Percent Of D.C. Is A Food Desert Christina Sturdivant –

[5] Adie Tomer, et al., Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America, METRO. POLICY PROGRAM AT BROOKINGS 16 (May 2011), available at

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