Opinion: Commentary: Restoring Driving Privileges

Opinion: Commentary: Restoring Driving Privileges

This week ushers in the beginning of the new fiscal year, which means that all of the laws that were passed in the General Assembly during this year’s session go into effect this week.

One such important measure will temporarily halt the practice of courts suspending driver’s licenses for Virginians who have failed to pay court fines and costs. As of Monday, July 1, 2019, Virginians whose driving privileges have been suspended solely for failure to pay court fines and costs will immediately have their driving privileges restored, without paying a reinstatement fee. I was happy to see this change made through Governor Northam’s budget amendment, as this practice disproportionately targeted poor Virginians. While this move is a great step forward to a more equitable justice system, this fix is only temporary. During the 2020 session, I look forward to working towards permanently banning this practice through legislation.

This change will not eliminate the underlying court debt, so Virginians are still expected to pay their balances. The state can use other methods to collect this debt, including garnishing tax refunds, putting a lien against property, or jail time. However, with driving privileges restored, those with court debt will have the ability to drive to work, and will be able to repay their debt as well as support their families. Over the last several months, the DMV has sent over half a million notices to affected individuals with specific instructions on how to have their driving privileges restored. As many as 627,000 Virginians could have their licenses reinstated.

Virginians who still have their physical unexpired license and have presented the DMV with proof of their permanent legal presence in the United States (i.e. birth certificate, U.S. Passport, legal permanent resident card) will not need to take any action. Their licenses will be valid again as of July 1. Virginians who no longer have their physical license or their license has expired must obtain a replacement driver’s license or renew their license and will pay the usual driver’s license issue fee ($20 for a replacement or $32 for an eight-year renewal, and an additional $10 for REAL ID). Those who have not presented the DMV with proof of their permanent legal presence in the United States will be required to do so. Individuals living outside of Virginia need not take any action if their driving privilege was suspended solely for failure to pay court fines and costs. Their Virginia suspensions will no longer be visible to other states’ driver licensing agencies after July 1. On request, the DMV can provide what is called a “Compliance Summary” for free that will list the reasons why a driver’s license is suspended. These can be obtained by going to a DMV office, calling 804-497-7100 to have one mailed, or by setting up an account at www.dmv.virginia.gov and downloading one.

DMV locations are expected to be extremely busy this summer due to license restoration. In anticipation of this additional customer traffic, DMV has expanded hours at several service locations around the state to accommodate. On July 6 and July 13, the Franconia customer service center will operate under expanded service hours, closing at 2 p.m. DMV will continue the 11:30 a.m. deadline for customers to receive a ticket for testing. Call center and headquarters’ employees will also have extended hours. In addition, DMV will monitor customer volumes during those extended hours to determine whether additional hours are warranted for the last two Saturdays in July. My office is always available to help navigate this process, so do not hesitate to reach out to me for assistance.