Lost Your License Because Of Unpaid Tickets? You May Be In Luck
Vermonters who have unpaid traffic tickets may be in luck. This Friday only, the state will grant partial amnesty for people who've lost their driver's licenses due to unpaid traffic fines.
The one-day pilot program is being offered to drivers in Chittenden, Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille, and Washington counties. Gov. Peter Shumlin and Chittenden County State’s Attorney TJ Donovan joined VPR to explain the how and why of the program.
“The courts are overwhelmed with suspended licenses," Donovan says. "In Chittenden County alone, in 2014, we had over 980 criminal charges resulting from what we call DLS’s [Driving with License Suspended], 480 of which are based on civil tickets. And in the state of Vermont, we have 22,000 folks who are suspended, which has resulted in 113,000 delinquent tickets.
Donovan says the state hasn't collected fines on some of these tickets since the 1980s. "Frankly, we’re using a lot of resources for very little reward. I think it’s in the interest of public safety to have people legally licensed, fully insured, getting to work, driving their kids safely to school, and being law-abiding productive Vermonters," he says. "Most people want to do the right thing, but they’re stuck in this hole."
The state will charge $20 per delinquent ticket, according to Donovan. "So, it’s not amnesty – it’s fine reduction ... The points stay," he says. "Anecdotally, many of these people have about 10 tickets, so we’re going to be collecting about $200 per person. And in talking to a lot of these folks, it really is an issue of, ‘Do I put food on my table? Do we pay for our fuel this winter? Or do I pay my traffic tickets?’"
"I think it's in the interest of public safety to have people legally licensed, fully insured, getting to work, driving their kids safely to school, and being law-abiding productive Vermonters." - Chittenden County State's Attorney TJ Donovan
The state can't know what percentage of Vermonters who haven't paid their tickets are low-income, and what percentage simply don't want to ante up, because, according to Gov. Shumlin, there's no means testing when it comes to issuing traffic fines.
“What we do know, when you go out and talk to Vermonters," the governor says, "is that we have an awful lot of mostly women who are in a position where they’ve had fines, often for years. The fines continue to build, and they’re unable to get a legal driver’s license. This is standing in their way. So this is not saying, ‘You won’t have points. We’re forgiving you for your sins.’ What it’s saying is, ‘We’re going to charge you, on a one-time basis, an affordable fee for the tickets that you have racked up, get you back driving, back to work.’”
But does a program like this send the wrong message to would-be speeders? Shumlin thinks the current numbers of Vermonters without legal licenses trumps that risk.
"If you’ve got 22,000 Vermonters in a state of 625,000, who literally can’t get to a job, can’t get their kids to school, can’t get their kids to their doctor’s appointment, you have to ask the question, ‘Are we just going to continue to pretend that magically these people are going to be able to come up with thousands and thousands of dollars in fines when they can’t put food on the table for their kids right now? … Or are we going to face reality?'" he says.
"This is not saying, 'You won't have points. We're forgiving you for your sins.' What it's saying is, 'We're going to charge you, on a one-time basis, an affordable fee for the tickets that you have racked up.'" - Gov. Peter Shumlin
“I think we’re sending the wrong message with the current practice, frankly," Donovan adds. "Here’s the thing. This is a one-time deal. Will some people try to take advantage? Probably. That’s just life.”
And although these are tough budget times for the state, Gov. Shumlin says he isn't worried about foregone revenue from these reduced fines.
“We’re not getting the money anyway," Shumlin says. "And I’ve talked to … some of the folks who are in this position.”
If the pilot in five choice Vermont counties is successful, the governor says he'll expand the program.
“If it’s successful, I do want to do it in the other counties across the state," Shumlin says. "Because if it’s right for these counties, it should be right for every county in Vermont.”