The crime of Driving While License Suspended in the 3rd Degree is the lowest level of driving with a suspended license. While the charge is criminal in nature, it can arise simply because a person is unable to pay the fine on a non-safety civil traffic ticket but still needs to drive to get to work.
Some legislators have taken to calling this charge, “driving while poor.”
Senate Bill 6284, which Gov. Gregoire signed into law Friday, reforms the state’s DWLS3 law by authorizing a civil collection process for unpaid fines for non-moving infractions such as expired tabs or other non-safety issues. The inability to pay or a delay in paying a non-moving traffic fine will no longer result in a suspended license for failure to pay the fines.
“A lot of folks just don’t have the resources to pay their fines and/or deal with the court process, and they end up with a criminal charge and increased fines,” said Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, the bill’s prime sponsor. “The purpose of this bill is to try and keep people from having a civil matter turn into a criminal one for driving while poor.”
This bill helps to preserve what may be the most valuable asset for poor people – cars and the licenses to drive them. Washingtonians should not have to face losing their jobs, Kline said, because it is a crime to just drive to work – all because they cannot afford to pay a traffic ticket.
It is estimated that this reform could save local governments $36 million per biennium in court time, prosecutor and public defender fees, and incarceration costs. The city of Seattle implemented a similar program and saved $212,000 last year.