THE SILENT CRISIS OF ILLEGAL DRIVING
In 2022, just in Kansas City, Mo., more than 2,200 driving while suspended charges were filed, and more than 4,500 driving without insurance charges were filed (source: Kansas City, Mo. Municipal Court). Combine these 6,700 drivers with the thousands of drivers with unresolved charges from previous years who continue to drive illegally, and that’s a number in the many tens of thousands. And remember--these statistics only reflect charges filed in Kansas City, Missouri. This problem isn’t unique to the Kansas City area:
- The National Cooperative Highway Research Program estimates that as many as 75% of suspended drivers continue to drive.
- According to the Vera Institute of Justice, an estimated 11 million people nationally have a suspended driver’s license because they can’t afford to pay off the fines and fees that they owe to the court. The Institute states that this criminalizes people with low incomes and people experiencing poverty, and that these practices disproportionately harm Black people.
- The Insurance Research Council has found there are approximately 32 million uninsured drivers in the U.S.--about one in eight drivers. In 2019, 16.4% of drivers in Missouri were uninsured, and 10.9% of Kansans were uninsured.
WHO IS DRIVING ILLEGALLY? Those driving illegally don’t want to break the law. Most of them are hard-working citizens who make very little money and cannot afford to get their licenses reinstated, their tags renewed, or their vehicles registered. Perhaps they’ve been barely making it and run out of money one month and can’t pay their insurance premium…and happen to get pulled over. They receive a ticket—and can’t pay that either. So now they can’t afford insurance, can’t afford the ticket, their license is suspended, and there is a warrant out for their arrest. Then they must make a choice: take the risk and drive illegally, so they can get to work and take their kids to school…or stay home and risk losing their home and everything else they’ve worked for. It’s easy to see how this situation spirals from not having an extra $100 to pay insurance one month, to having your life completely derailed by a system that criminalizes poverty.
Driving is a necessity—not a luxury.
SEEKING CHANGE FOR OUR COMMUNITY In recent years, 23 states have enacted legislative reforms to end or significantly curb debt-based license suspensions, many based on the Driving for Opportunity Act of 2021. Missouri and Kansas are among the remaining states that still suspend licenses for failure to pay fines. This cripples people with debt they may never be able to pay, and limits their opportunities for where they work, where their children go to school, and where they can shop and receive medical care.
The practice of debt-based license suspension is also counter-productive. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators states that people who can legally drive are more likely to have stable employment. It is also proven that people with stable employment are much more likely to be healthier than those who do not. The organization now advocates the elimination of license suspensions for all non-highway safety violations.
In addition to raising money to help illegal drivers so they can drive legally again, we are recruiting attorneys who will provide pro bono services to help our clients get their licenses reinstated. We also plan to offer free reinstatement workshops, where the steps for getting a license reinstated will be explained and questions answered. And the Bail Fund is talking with leaders throughout the metropolitan area about the crisis of illegal driving and are advocating for common-sense solutions that will allow more people to drive legally.
By eliminating the transportation barrier of driving illegally, more people in our community can safely and legally drive to work and live their lives as we are all meant to do...leading to healthier and more stable individuals, families, and communities.
Illegal driving is a silent crisis that’s been going on for many years—a crisis that cripples and limits the lives of those who are affected and their families. Through Project GreenLight, the Kansas City Community Bail Fund is determined to make a difference by bringing this crisis out into the open and addressing the problem in a variety of ways.
For more information about illegal driving, an excellent resource is the ACLU’s in depth report, “Reckless Lawmaking: How Debt-Based Driver's License Suspension Laws Impose Harm and Waste Resources,” documenting the pervasive practice of using driver’s license suspension as a consequence for unpaid fines and fees.
If you have questions about Project GreenLight, please get in touch: ProjectGreenLight@kcbail.fund