We’ve probably all looked up in the rearview mirror at some point to see the flashing lights of a police cruiser signaling us to pull over. Whether it was for a missing headlight or pushing the gas a little too hard, even the smallest traffic fines can quickly make a day go south. But in Michigan, it’s what comes next that will make anyone’s day go from bad to worse.
For nearly 15 years, Michigan drivers have opened their mailboxes to find a second traffic ticket — the so-called “driver responsibility fee” — waiting for them. On top of the original traffic violation and points on their license, drivers could expect to see an additional fine between $150 and $1,000 depending on the type of violation.
Proponents of driver responsibility fees believed this would discourage bad driving, and ultimately get habitual offenders off the road. However, the law was written in such a way that it cast a wide net over all drivers, hitting them with multiple fines for a single infraction — essentially, a double tax. Some might even say it could be called “double jeopardy.”
The now defunct driver responsibility fees were a cash grab by the state of Michigan that saddled drivers with an extra financial burden when they were already struggling to keep their heads above water. These fees were assessed for multiple years, and continued to accrue, even if the driver had maintained a clean record after the original citation. To make matters worse, thousands of drivers had their licenses suspended when they were unable to pay the excessive fines. As a result, they were kept off the roads — and in many cases, lost their jobs — since their suspended license prevented them from driving to work.
According to Crain’s Detroit Business, “approximately 317,048 Michigan drivers owe about $594.8 million in unpaid Driver Responsibility Fees at a statewide average of $1,876 per driver” — or twice as much as the average mortgage payment.
There’s no doubt that these fees are a problem, and state lawmakers have even gone as far as passing laws which phase the assessment of fees out by 2019 — however, even though the fees would no longer be assessed, outstanding fees would still be owed. So, as the assessment of these fees disappear, what are the people, who are stuck owing these outrageous fees, supposed to do? Many cannot even afford to pay them. We must have with the goal of helping Michigan drivers start over with a clean slate, instead of keeping them in perpetual poverty.
I’ve introduced Senate Bill 214 which would reinstate a bipartisan program to allow individuals to pay back the driver responsibility fees they owe by doing community service.
This legislation would ease the burdensome, financial constraints of the failed Driver Responsibility Act, while getting Michigan working people back on their feet and out into their neighborhoods through community service.
To me, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Sen. Morris W. Hood III, D–Detroit, represents Michigan’s 3rd Senate district.