Unpaid parking tickets

Parking ticket

Violating parking rules does involved your car, if not your skill on the road. But while parking tickets aren't moving violations, if you get enough of them and fail to pay, your license can be suspended in some states (but the laws vary).

However, in recent years, there's been a reversal in this trend. The Fines and Fees Justice Center's Free to Drive campaign reports that since 2017 23 states have enacted legislation that curbs or removes the use of license suspension for unpaid fines, including parking tickets. 

Borrowing the wrong car

Car keys

Molly Gena, a lawyer with the Legal Action of Wisconsin, had a client who lost her license after the relative's car she'd borrowed was stopped for suspended registration.

What many people don't know is that tickets for vehicle violations are issued to whomever is driving the car at the time. This is true even if it's an equipment violation, and even if the driver has no way of knowing about it.

"The vehicle was not registered because of parking tickets," says Gena. "It was a family member's car. But she didn't know."

The woman, a single mother, was unable to pay a $200 ticket that followed, and her license was suspended for two years. She landed a good job shortly thereafter, but without transportation had to quit. Free to Drive reports that Wisconsin is still one of the states that allows such suspensions.

Possessing alcohol as a minor

Teenager drinking

"Even if there's no driving involved, that's a common license suspension," says Rob Mikell, a former prosecutor and now commissioner of the Georgia Department of Driver Services.

He doesn't supports kids drinking and driving, of course. But this suspension affects teens caught with booze even when there is no car in sight. Teens can also be denied driving privileges for a prior incident of tobacco possession or truancy.

"There's a public policy reason that their license is suspended, not a public safety reason," says Gena.

Driving without insurance

Woman pulled over by police

In 32 states, judges can suspend someone's license the first time they are caught driving without insurance. In seven states, first-time offenders can also be jailed.

The Consumer Federation of America, which asserts that many drivers are uninsured because they can't afford the cost, found that states with harsh penalties for uninsured drivers don't enjoy lower rates of uninsured drivers, indicating that suspensions don't serve their intended purpose.

Opponents aren't suggesting people drive uninsured vehicles. Rather, they argue, license suspensions inhibit people's ability to pay for the necessary insurance. Someone whose driver's license is suspended cannot legally drive a friend's, family member's or employer's automobile, making it difficult to find and keep a job.

Bounced or bad checks


Many of the infractions that trigger a license suspension revolve around unpaid bills. Create a big enough carrot - in this case a driver’s license - and people will pay. So goes the thinking.

But try getting a job to pay those bills without a license, say opponents.

"Even if you don't need to drive to get to work, driver's licenses are being used by employers as a screening method for employment," says  Yunk Todd, a founding director of the Center for Driver's License Recovery and Employability.

Litter, overdue library books and more

Roadside litter

Mikell says it's rare for judges to suspend driver's licenses for things like overdue library books. Once unpaid fines mount, however, people's licenses are at risk, regardless of whether they pose a risk to other drivers. Again, some states have rescinded laws allowing suspension for unpaid fines, but they're still on the books in many places.

Overdue student loans

Student loan notice

At least two states, Iowa and Montana, can suspend a person's driver's license for unpaid student loans. Opponents of this practice say it's a misuse of resources.

"The question is, how many of our resources have to go into non-driving related offenses," says Mikell, chair of the AAMVA's working group on suspended drivers. Police are passionate about highway safety, he said, "And going after those people is not furthering the mission of making sure that folks on the road are safe."

Failure to pay child support

Father and son

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), all 50 states have laws allowing the suspension of driving privileges for failure to pay child support.

Some states, however, offer some leniency for those whose ability to earn an income is affected by the suspension.

Drug possession


Even as many states have moved to legalize marijuana (and other drugs in some cases) and de-criminalize possession, laws remain on the books that can see your license suspended. That's most likely to happen in the case of possession in a vehicle. Much like an open bottle law, carrying drugs in your car is seen as a higher risk that you'll use them and drive intoxicated. 

Public intoxication and other vice crimes

Street prostitution

Plenty of behaviors deemed socially unacceptable can cost you your driver's license, even if none of them are undertaken behind the wheel of a car.

Many states allow suspension of a driver's license for prostitution, public intoxication, and other vice crimes, even if they have nothing to do with driving.

Failure to appear in court

Arrested man

It's probably no surprise that if you're struggling financially you're more likely to lose your driver's license, no matter how safe a driver you are.

The failure to either pay a fine or appear in court to contest it is a common trigger of license suspensions, says Gena. The problem, she said, often begins with a traffic stop for a simple equipment violation: a broken headlight, a missing front plate, an expired tag.

People may be unable to pay the fine, but see no point in contesting it in court. Doing neither leads to additional charges and mounting fines.

"That's mostly what I see. I don't see a whole lot of safety violations," says Gena. "People just don't know what the consequences are if they do nothing."

Fuel theft, piracy and a lot more

Gas station at night

"In Wisconsin there are 98 ways to lose your license, and we keep adding more," says Yunk Todd, of the Center for Driver's License Recovery and Employability. "We like to find ways to penalize people, and find ways to take away their privilege to drive."

Add to the list of offenses in some states: misuse of a handicap space; immigration or visa expiration; graffiti; defacing signs; flying while intoxicated.

"The most common misperception is that the threat of a license being suspended does change people's behavior," says Mikell, the former Georgia prosecutor. "But 75% of the folks who are suspended continue to drive anyway."

"The stigma is gone," he adds. Plus, "people are so dependent on their cars, they just don't know what to do."