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Drivers will no longer lose their licenses for unpaid traffic fines


New Yorkers who can't afford to pay traffic fines will no longer risk losing their driver's licenses under a new measure that end a practice that critics said amounted to criminalizing poor people.

Drivers can still lose their licenses for reckless behavior on the road, like driving under the influence of alcohol or accumulating too many driving violation points.

But two thirds of license suspensions in New York were most often a consequence of outstanding debt, according to Department of Motor Vehicles data. The agency routinely imposed a "scoff" — short for scofflaw — on drivers who either failed to pay a traffic ticket or did not show up in court to dispose of it that suspended the person's driving privileges until the debt was paid.

If a person is caught driving with a suspended license, they may be arrested.

Police and prosecutors have cast the practice as a matter of law and order. But advocates for the poor contended that it was less about public safety than collecting a debt.

The Driver's License Suspension Reform Act, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week, will allow people who currently have suspended licenses because of traffic debt to get them back.

State Sen. Tim Kennedy, of Buffalo, who sponsored the legislation with Assembly member Pamela Hunter of Syracuse, said in a statement that it was "a huge win that decriminalizes poverty and will give hope and opportunity to drivers across New York state."

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at [email protected].