State to let drivers pay their traffic fines in installments
Paying down debt is a popular New Year’s resolution. The road to success will soon get easier for New York drivers with traffic tickets.
A bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 31 will permit drivers to set up payment plans if they can’t afford an entire fine in a lump sum.
It will help keep drivers behind the wheel when they would otherwise face license or registration suspensions due to traffic debt. The law takes effect March 31.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, and Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, D-Syracuse, sponsored the bill, known as the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act.
“The privilege of driving should not be attached to your income,” Kennedy and Hunter, D-Syracuse, said in a joint statement.
“This law will provide real social justice to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who have had their mobility impacted, their ability to provide for their family limited and their fright to freedom of movement curtailed simply due to their inability to pay a traffic ticket.”
Previously, non-payment of non-criminal traffic-related fines and fees — typically due within weeks after conviction — resulted in an automatic driver’s license suspension, and courts were generally not allowed to take into consideration a driver’s ability to pay the fine or offer installment plans.
A report earlier this year released by the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School found that people of color “are disproportionately stopped, ticketed, ticketed with multiple tickets, arrested, charged, and convicted for traffic violations and driving with suspended licenses” across the state and country.
The disparities, the report found, leave poor communities of color across New York with mounting traffic debt, leading to higher suspension rates of driver’s licenses in communities of color.
Between January 2016 and April 2018, New York issued nearly 1.7 million license suspensions related to traffic debt. Proponents of the bill said this meant drivers could not drive to work, school or court, reducing the likelihood that the person could ever repay the penalty.
Two-thirds of all license suspensions in New York are just for traffic debt, and the majority of those drivers keep driving anyway, risking more fines or criminal charges.
The new law will give people an opportunity to pay the traffic debt without disrupting their lives, advocates said.
Drivers hit with traffic violation fines can pay monthly installments of $10 per month or 2% of their net monthly income, whichever is greater.
Judges will have leeway to cut or waive required surcharges and fees.