BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBMA) — Thousands of drivers in Alabama struggle to get to work due to suspended licenses and studies show it's costing the state millions of dollars. It's a huge burden on the economy which has driven a labor force shortage.
Faye Mitchell is happy to be behind the wheel again. She had two jobs and walked to work. A bike from her dad helped ease the burden. But imagine biking or walking in Alabama's extreme weather. The lack of public transportation only compounds the problem.
Like thousands of others an old failure to appear in court or a failure to pay fines cost Faye her license. It's an expensive and time consuming effort to get it back. "For the average person it's a mess," explained Faye.
Alabama Appleseed says having so many without a drivers license means local jobs go unfilled and citizens have trouble supporting their families.
"This is a huge economic impact. We had an economist do a study and it found the state loses $61.5 million dollars in consumer spending," said Frederick Spight, Policy Director.
A 2018 survey from the organization found:
9 in 10 drivers had to forgo a basic need like food to pay traffic tickets.
Nearly half took out high interest payday loans to pay tickets.
And two thirds of those surveyed were jailed in connection with unpaid fines.
In 2021 170,000 Alabama drivers had their licenses suspended. "Only a small percentage, 9,000 were for driving related offenses like DUI's," explained Spight.
Alabama Appleseed is pushing legislation to make the process easier for those who had suspensions not related to dangerous driving: tickets for expired tags, a busted headlight, or failure to pay fines.
It would give drivers two chances to get to court before an automatic suspension. License re-instatement fees run around $200.
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This is the second go around for the bill in the state legislature. Alabama Appleseed says they think they have a better chance this go around and urge you to call your lawmaker. The legislative session is underway.
It's a massive issue when we're talking about development of our workforce," remarked Spight.
Spight says key to recruiting businesses is having a ready and able workers. Mitchell says determination and a good lawyer made the difference in her case. "Having my license has been a gamechanger."
We spoke with J.D. Snoddy, Circuit Clerk of Winston County. He explained it's important for drivers to keep their addresses on their license up to date. Snoddy says the court sends out reminders of court dates to help avoid a failure to appear charge.
He tells ABC3340 News if a driver is unable to pay a fine they need to speak with the judge for options like weekend community service.