Marin County has agreed to stop a traffic court practice that disproportionately affects low-income drivers and exacerbates racial inequalities. The county traffic court had not been releasing driver’s license suspensions for failure to appear in court, even after the driver had appeared. Instead, they lifted suspensions only when a ticket had been paid in full. This practice was meant to coerce people into paying their tickets and negatively impacted those who cannot afford to pay. In February, Western Center on Law and Poverty and Bay Area Legal Aid wrote a letter requesting that Marin County end this practice.
Western Center wrote a blog post about the importance of Marin County’s decision and of fair traffic laws. In particular, they emphasized the urgency of ending driver’s license suspensions for those who cannot afford to pay high traffic fines or do not have the ability or means to appear in court. These suspensions are not about keeping roads safe, since there are other laws regarding suspensions for reckless and dangerous driving, but exist to allow for debt collection. This in turn leads to further fines and mounting debt for individuals in poverty. These practices also disproportionately affect Black and Latinx drivers, who are more likely to be pulled over. Western Center hopes that Marin County’s example will encourage other traffic courts to comply with rules limiting these kinds of suspensions and make their practices more transparent.