For many people in the Portland area, a $100 traffic ticket isn’t something they want to get, but it is affordable. But not everyone is fortunate enough to bear an unexpected $100 fine from the police.
Unfortunately, Oregon’s courts do not take ability to pay into account. And if you cannot pay a relatively small fine, late fees and additional charges can snowball quickly until you owe thousands of dollars. And, until recently, you could have lost your driver’s license.
A $100 ticket cost him his license
For example, a Portland man was ticketed $100 for impeding traffic in 2016. He was living with his mother and raising his young daughter and could not afford to pay the ticket. The court added fees, suspended his license, fined him for driving without a license, and eventually turned the debt over to a collection agency. By the end of 2021, he owed nearly $9,000 and could not get his license restored until he had paid off the debt.
This is not an unusual story. Throughout the country, low-income Americans who get cited for a low-level traffic violation get trapped in a cycle that pulls them into debt and takes away their driving privileges, making it much tougher for them to get to work to earn money to pay the fines. Here in Oregon, more than 334,000 drivers lost their license for an unpaid fine, not because the court deemed them unsafe on the roads.
The law has changed in Oregon
Fortunately, many states have recognized how the system of traffic law enforcement puts lower-income people in this dilemma. In 2020, Oregon joined them by passing a law forbidding the suspension of someone’s driver’s license because of an unpaid traffic fine. But the possibility of regularly increasing fines related to a single violation remains.