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Suspended licenses plague many NC drivers, but a court settlement aims to change that

Charlie Cowins

In North Carolina, one unpaid speeding ticket can lead to a suspended license.

Over 1.2 million drivers throughout the state have had their licenses suspended because of unpaid traffic court fees and fines or failure to appear in court for their hearing, according to court data released in a Duke University report last year.

People of color were almost twice as likely as white people to have their licenses suspended.

Unpaid court fines and fees also plague drivers across the country. In 2019, an estimated 11 million Americans had their licenses suspended for unpaid court debt, according to the co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center.

Thousands may get their licenses back in North Carolina, however, because of a settlement last month from a nearly four-year-old class-action lawsuit. The state Division of Motor Vehicles will reach out to roughly 185,000 North Carolinians who have a suspended license due to unpaid fees and fines.

We speak with experts to understand how a suspended license can have a damaging ripple effect on the lives of many North Carolinians, what solutions the recent settlement will provide, and what problems remain.


Miriam Gutman, senior attorney for the Economic Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center

William Crozier, research director at Duke University's Center for Science and Justice

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Jesse Steinmetz is Producer of Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Before joining WFAE in 2019, he was an intern at WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut and hosted a show at Eastern Connecticut State University.