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NY Still Suspending Licenses of Drug Offenders

More than 80 percent of Americans rely on motor vehicles to get to work. (Jim.henderson/Wikimedia Commons)
More than 80 percent of Americans rely on motor vehicles to get to work. (Jim.henderson/Wikimedia Commons)
December 15, 2016

NEW YORK – New York should join the majority of states in ending the practice of automatically suspending the driver's license of anyone convicted of a non-driving, drug-related offense, according to a new report.

The report, by the Prison Policy Initiative, says all but 12 states and the District of Columbia have opted out of the license suspension provision of a federal law that was passed in 1991.

Joshua Aiken, the report’s author, points out that there's no evidence the suspensions deter crime, but they perpetuate the injustices of the war on drugs.

"They're impacting low-income communities, communities who have limited access to public transportation, communities of color who are most impacted by these collateral consequences of drug convictions," he states.

Last year, almost 18,000 New Yorkers had their driver's license suspended for six months for drug convictions not related to driving.

Nationally, more than 80 percent of Americans rely on motor vehicles to get to work. And, according to Aiken, in one study 45 percent of people surveyed said they lost their jobs after their license had been suspended.

"A lot of times, employers, one of the first questions they ask is, ‘Do you have a consistent form of transportation?’” he points out. “So these suspensions really hamper people's opportunities to find and keep jobs."

Almost 90 percent of those whose licenses were suspended reported a decrease in income.

The 1991 federal law threatens states with loss of federal highway funds if they don't automatically suspend the licenses of those convicted of drug offenses. But Aiken says there's a relatively easy way out.

"As long as the governor and the state legislature inform the Department of Transportation that they don't believe in these license suspensions and are no longer going to enforce them, they can keep their highway funding," he points out.

License suspensions have been extended to a variety of other circumstances, from inability to pay fines to missed child support payments. But Aiken says many states are beginning to roll back those penalties as well.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY