Individual and Geographic Variation in Driver's License Suspensions: Evidence of Disparities by Race, Ethnicity and Income

J Transp Health. 2020 Dec:19:100933. doi: 10.1016/j.jth.2020.100933. Epub 2020 Sep 14.


Introduction: Although access to a motor vehicle is essential for pursuing social and economic opportunity and ensuring health and well-being, states have increasingly used driver's license suspensions as a means of compelling compliance with a variety of laws and regulations unrelated to driving, including failure to pay a fine or appear in court. Little known about the population of suspended drivers and what geographic resources may be available to them to help mitigate the impact of a suspension.

Methods: Using data from the New Jersey Safety Health Outcomes (NJ-SHO) data warehouse 2004-2018, we compared characteristics of suspended drivers, their residential census tract, as well as access to public transportation and jobs, by reason for the suspension (driving or non-driving related). In addition, we examined trends in the incidence and prevalence of driving- and non-driving-related suspensions by sub-type over time.

Results: We found that the vast majority (91%) of license suspensions were for non-driving-related events, with the most common reason for a suspension being failure to pay a fine. Compared to drivers with a driving-related suspension or no suspension, non-driving-related suspended drivers lived in census tracts with a lower household median income, higher proportion of black and Hispanic residents and higher unemployment rates, but also better walkability scores and better access to public transportation and jobs.

Conclusions: Our study contributes to a growing literature that shows, despite public perception that they are meant to address traffic safety, the majority of suspensions are for non-driving-related events. Further, these non-driving-related suspensions are most common in low-income communities and communities with a high-proportion of black and Hispanic residents. Although non-driving-related suspensions are also concentrated in communities with better access to public transportation and nearby jobs, additional work is needed to determine what effect this has for the social and economic well-being of suspended drivers.