Progress: With reforms in Iowa and Utah, 12,000 fewer people will be denied driver’s licenses every year

Two more states have opted to help safe drivers get their lives back on track after drug convictions.

by Aleks Kajstura, August 29, 2018

Two more states have stopped suspending driver’s licenses for drug offenses unrelated to driving, one of the most counterproductive policies to emerge from the War on Drugs. In January, this law was still on the books in 12 states and D.C. But with D.C.’s reversal in February and Utah and Iowa following suit, the number is now just 10, suggesting that this remains one of the most winnable justice reforms of the moment.

This marks great progress since the release of our report Reinstating Common Sense, which tracks the growing number of states rejecting this outdated and ineffective federal policy. We found that suspending the licenses of safe drivers makes the roads more dangerous, wastes law enforcement resources, and inhibits people with previous involvement in the criminal justice system from fulfilling personal, familial, and legal obligations.

These odd laws were a product of the War on Drugs, when states were eager to pile on any sort of penalties for drug offenses. In 1991 Congress started supporting automatically suspending driver’s licenses for drug offenses, and states (and D.C.) jumped on the idea.

The decades since have proven that such tactics are ineffective as deterrents. And not only do these laws not work, but they actually cause harm: Suspending driver’s licenses for non-traffic offenses decreases public safety on the road while increasing recidivism for those affected. So at the very least, taxpayers are spending a lot of money on making themselves less safe.

The remaining 10 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia) still suspend over 175,000 licenses every year, so there’s ample room for improvement. Which states will take this common-sense step next?

Aleks Kajstura is Legal Director at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

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