State Senate Tightens Rules on Driver’s Licenses

The three-ticket rule may inflict collateral damage

The state Senate passed a bill on Nov. 29 to continue a policy that keeps Michigan drivers from renewing their license if they have three or more outstanding parking tickets. Under a law set to expire on Jan. 1, 2018, the Secretary of State does not renew the license belonging to a driver with three or more unpaid tickets until that person pays the tickets — and a $45 “clearance” fee.

Before a change in 2012, Michigan drivers had to accrue six or more unpaid parking tickets before the state would refuse to renew a license. But the Legislature implemented a rule that year bringing the number down to its present level of three. The official analysis of that legislation indicated that the city of Grand Rapids was owed more than $1 million in past-due parking tickets and Detroit was owed around $30 million. The law was set to expire at the end of 2017, meaning that drivers would again be allowed to accrue up to six unpaid tickets before being banned from renewing their license.

Proponents of keeping the three-ticket rule in place say that it has encouraged people to pay their parking tickets, and that cities have dramatically reduced the amount of unpaid fines they have had to write off. The bill passed the Senate by a wide margin.

Unpaid parking tickets are not the only offense that can cause someone to lose a driver’s license in Michigan. So can a variety of crimes that have nothing to do with vehicles or driving, such as failure to pay child support, supplying a minor with alcohol, failing to pay court costs on time and most drug offenses. While these crimes are serious and deserve proportionate penalties, suspending licenses can strip people of the transportation they may need to keep a job and manage family responsibilities. In many of these cases, stripping someone’s driving privilege for an offense unrelated to driving can have serious collateral consequences.

Unlike, say, a rule relating to child support, the three-ticket rule is an example of the loss of the driving privilege being logically connected to a driving- or vehicle-related offense. Those who flout the rules of the road in their communities should not be allowed to drive there until they have taken responsibility for those violations. Policymakers should take care to ensure that all offenses are met with proportional, commonsense penalties that do not cause more harm than good.