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Steering Clear Driver's License Diversion Program Public Investment Plan (2017)


Dawn Deaner

Project Description

In 2015, the Metro Police Department issued state citations in roughly 36,500 cases for driving on a suspended or revoked license. For 65% of those defendants (around 24,000), it’s the only charge they faced. The numbers were even higher in the previous four years (see accompanying report from Criminal Justice Planning).

Many individuals lose their license due to poverty – they get behind on child support, court costs, or other fees often unrelated to driving or safety -- and then struggle to get it back. Others don’t even know their license has been suspended until a traffic stop. In recent years, getting a driver’s license reinstated has become an increasingly complex, bureaucratic and expensive process. State and local agencies are involved, with state and local fees and fines that can balloon over time into thousands of dollars. As a result, individuals who need to drive but cannot legally do so get caught in a cycle of arrest, court involvement, conviction, and increased costs. This cycle creates economic burdens on the individual and our community.

At the same time, our city devotes significant resources to criminal prosecution of driver’s license cases, with little evidence that this process enhances public safety or produces any benefit at all. As a result, while thousands of Nashvillians live with hardships caused by not having a license, taxpayers fund a court model that does little to address the underlying problem. In turn, our larger community also feels the indirect burdens of the problem. Unlicensed drivers are much more likely not to have liability insurance, and their job opportunities are more limited. Without a driver’s license, which is the most commonly accepted form of identification, finding housing, jobs and medical care becomes more complicated. Involvement with the criminal justice system only creates added barriers and disadvantages in those areas.

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