Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning. Sign Up

Opinion: The harmful reality of debt-based driver’s license suspensions


When Governor Kay Ivey announced her “Success Plus” plan to grow Alabama’s skilled-labor pipeline by 500,000 workforce-ready employees by 2025, it signaled a critical moment for the future of our great state. And, while we have seen tremendous progress in bringing her vision to life across Alabama, there remains a significant hurdle that could jeopardize the long-term health of our workforce and economy: debt-based driver’s license suspensions.  

Under current Alabama law, driver’s licenses can be suspended due to unpaid traffic tickets or failure to appear at compliance hearings for those unpaid tickets. 

As a business owner in Alabama and a fellow with CEO Action for Racial Equity, I am well acquainted with how these policies unjustly burden individuals with debt.  Suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and fees makes it harder to get or maintain a job since many jobs require a driver’s license as a condition of employment.  Jobs such as construction, manufacturing, security, and trade jobs, including electricians and plumbers, require a driver’s license.  These suspensions in turn impact earnings and salaries, and can create an endless cycle of hardship. 

Beyond the personal impact, these suspensions simply do not make economic sense for our state. Any benefit of the revenue collected by the state for reinstatement is more than offset by the loss of gas and income tax revenue for those who have a suspended license.  A study from January of this year from the University of Alabama in Birmingham noted, “even after the state collects the fines, fees and court costs owed by the median resident with a suspended license, it has still lost $804.86 in tax revenue”. 

In a just system, legislation should not disproportionately target any demographic.  However,  debt-based driver’s license suspensions do just that. Based on studies that have been performed, debt-based driver’s license suspensions disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color, with some states reporting approximately 50% of those with suspended drivers license residing in these communities. 

More than twenty states have already taken action to end the suspension of drivers license for unpaid fines and fees to bring more prosperity to their states, and many are moving in the same direction.  

Alabama has worked hard to make itself a desirable location for businesses to expand and grow. However, our state’s current license suspension policy keeps historically oppressed communities from the workforce and exacerbates our labor shortages and equity gaps. When an organization considers where to invest in America, those locations should have the workers needed to fill positions and a legislative environment that promotes economic prosperity and success.  Alabama is moving in the right direction to help businesses attract and retain talent. We need to continue that mindset and end debt-based driver’s license suspensions.

Frye is founder and CEO of Parity Health Information & Technology and a fellow at CEO Action for Racial Equity. 



Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Web Development By Infomedia