Giving Michigan motorists a break

Senator Wayne Schmidt

Senator Wayne Schmidt

Since 2003, Michigan drivers have been subject to state fees that do nothing to improve their driving habits, but if left unpaid, could severely hinder their ability to get to work or lead normal lives.

Driver responsibility fees (DRFs) require Michigan drivers to pay a fee to have their driver’s license reinstated after accumulating a number of points on it or being cited for certain offenses.

The state imposes DRFs on motorists who accumulate seven or more points on their driving record within two years and who are convicted of driving while intoxicated or without a license. Depending on the offense, DRFs range from $100 to $1,000. If a person fails to pay his or her fees after the secretary of state mails two notices of the assessment, the person’s driving privileges are suspended.

This has resulted in many Michigan residents losing their driver’s license and often their job because they cannot afford to pay the fees. Several judges and lawmakers have vocally opposed the fees, saying they punish drivers twice for the same infraction and pile outrageous fees on top of fees already issued by the court. Additionally, the system has proven to be a failure since a large majority of the fees owed are never collected because low-income drivers simply can’t pay them.

The Senate recently approved legislation that would finally get rid of driver responsibility fees and provide relief to millions of drivers across the state.

Senate Bills 609-615 and 624-625 would eliminate DRFs as of Oct. 1, 2018 and forgive any outstanding DRFs older than six years on a rolling basis.

The primary purpose of this legislation is to allow people to get their driver’s licenses back immediately after the bill is signed into law. The bills would also allow drivers who cannot afford to pay the fees to get their license back by performing community service or a workforce training program.

The state of Michigan has roughly 317,000 people without driver’s licenses because of outstanding driver responsibility fees. These fees are an unfair hurdle that can drastically and unduly affect an individual’s ability to maintain a regular schedule.

I would like to see these bills approved and sent to the governor’s desk. Michigan drivers deserve better than this.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, represents the 37th state Senate District, which includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Luce and Mackinac counties.