DC officials consider changes to outstanding traffic ticket law

There’s now hope for residents in the District who are unable to renew their driver’s license because of mounting debt from outstanding traffic tickets.

The D.C. Council is considering eliminating driver’s licenses from the District's "clean hands" law, which denies licenses to residents who owe the city more than $100.  

Lawmakers behind the bill have said the current law hurts those in the lower-income area of the city, and they want to help families who can’t pay.  

DC offers 4-month amnesty for drivers with outstanding traffic tickets as enforcement resumes

Tuesday's 12-to-1 vote is another step in setting it up for further consideration. 

Tzedek DC, a nonprofit serving locals facing debt-related problems, has been outspoken against the current law and did a report on how it undermines racial equity in the city.  


"In the District of Columbia, decades, centuries of structural racism ... On average, white families in D.C. have wealth that is 81 times that of African-American households in D.C., and so a law that punishes nonpayment of money is going to have a disproportionate impact on our African-American neighbors," said Ariel Levinson-Waldman, president and director-counsel for Tzedek DC. 

"We know that right now the ‘clean hands’ law is doing nothing to help safety," Levinson-Waldman continued. "What it is doing by punishing people not for conduct, not for doing something unsafe, but just for not paying a ticket. It is harming a very specific part of our community, hurting their jobs, and increasing their likelihood with interacting with the criminal justice system." 

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who voted present instead of no, told FOX 5 she understands the reason behind the bill and even thinks the citation amounts are way too high. But she believes it's too broad. 

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Cheh said it’s an invitation for people to violate the law and an invitation for people who can pay outstanding tickets to not pay them.   

"A very troubling aspect of this is it applies to all tickets that you owe money for," Cheh said. "One could say parking tickets ‘okay fine,’ but many folks owe money for very dangerous driving. Running red lights, going thirty miles over the speed limit in a school zone or what have you. And as for those tickets it seems there ought to be some consequence." 

Cheh says in the coming weeks, she and other council members plan to see if they can come up with ways to make the bill narrower, for example, waiving just the parking tickets or having people show proof they aren’t able to pay, so they can get their license.