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Legislature passes bill protecting status of motorists who cannot pay traffic fines

A school-zone speed camera is shown near Francis Lewis High School in Queens. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

For motorists whose records are not exactly clean, it may not be their financial situation that loses them their license if a bill freshly passed by the State Assembly has anything to do with it.

Citing financial woes begetting more financial woes, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s office says traffic law violators may soon get to pay their violations in installments rather than have their license revoked or suspended outright, meaning they will still be able to make it to their jobs if they live in a transit desert.

An individual’s license may not even be suspended if they fail to appear in court, according to Heastie’s office, and the prime sponsor of the bill says it eliminates the temptation of motorists to drive on a suspended license.

“For many New Yorkers, especially those in rural areas with limited public transportation options, the ability to get to and from work is dependent on the ability to drive,” Heastie said. “When an individual is unable to get to work, it is more than an inconvenience to the driver – it hurts families, communities and employers.”

With less than half of New York City residents driving, it may seem like, as Heastie said, a “rural” issue. But the prime sponsor of the bill, Syracuse Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter, was bolstered with support from the recently unseated Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Uptown Manhattan rep Carmen De La Rosa.

“The practice of suspending drivers’ licenses for inability to pay fines and fees criminalizes New Yorkers for being poor,” Hunter said. “Stripping an individual of his or her right to drive does little to accomplish the goal of receiving the fine or fee courts have imposed. In areas with limited public transportation, suspending driving privileges sometimes compels an individual to drive with a suspended license, risking criminal charges, additional fines and possible jail time.”

Among the bill’s Senate sponsors whose district are within city limits are Michael Gianaris, Alessandra Biagi, John Liu, Jessica Ramos and several others.

A07463, which also passed in the Senate on Wednesday, may hit a nerve for New York City transit advocates whose movement has been to find justice for pedestrians and bicyclists killed in traffic as well as take bad drivers off the road before incidents occur.

Although the popularity of the bill may be hard to gauge at this point, New York City, after all, recently passed the Reckless Driver Accountability Act which tows cars after five red light violations or 15-speed camera tickets within a 12-month period.

According to the speaker’s office, between January 2016 and April 2018, the state has ordered the suspension of up to 1,686,175 driver’s licenses in relation to traffic debt.

The bill awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

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