How will 627,000 drivers with suspended licenses get their privileges back under new law? Automatically

By: - April 17, 2019 11:15 pm

A sample drivers license provided by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Many residents whose driving privileges will be restored later this year under legislation passed by the General Assembly won’t have to do anything to start driving legally again.

As long as they still have their physical license and it isn’t expired, they’re good to get behind the wheel as soon as the law goes into effect on July 1, according to Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Katy Lloyd.

“The driving privilege of anyone suspended solely for failure to pay court fines and costs will be automatically reinstated,” she said.

People with no physical license or an expired license will need to go to the DMV to apply for a replacement or renewal, but will not have to pay a reinstatement fee, which was formerly set at $145.

The standard cost for a license — $32 or, if it’s a replacement, $20 — will still apply, she said.

Lawmakers voted to end the practice of automatically suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and court costs earlier this month. It had been voted down by a Republican-led panel in the House of Delegates, but Gov. Ralph Northam revived the measure by including it in his budget amendments and it won bi-partisan support when it hit the floor of both the House and Senate during the reconvened session last month.

Supporters said the suspensions amounted to a modern-day debtors’ prison and the state has been under legal pressure to end the practice for years, with the Legal Aid Justice Center mounting an ongoing lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. “We should never be punishing people for being poor,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington.

A total of 626,845 people will be allowed to drive again because of the action, according to data provided by the DMV.

Of those, about 245,500 have Virginia addresses, according to the data. Most of them are concentrated in the state’s cities.

Fall’s Church’s 14,460 residents had the highest proportion of residents with suspended licenses, according to the data, with three out of 10 residents ineligible to drive because of unpaid court fees and costs.

Residents of six other cities had their licenses suspended at a rate of more than one per every 10 people or higher: Manassas, Galax, Emporia, Fredericksburg, Winchester and Petersburg.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.