Take action to improve Washington’s criminal justice system


The most commonly charged crime in Washington state – Driving While License Suspended in the Third Degree (DWLS3) – disproportionately impacts poor people, young people, and people of color, and does little to keep us safe. In 2015 alone, Washington taxpayers spent more than $42 million to charge people with DWLS3. DWLS3 usually occurs when police stop people driving with a license that was suspended because they did not pay tickets on time or appear in traffic court - a problem that disproportionately affects people with limited means. Demand equal justice for rich and poor. Tell Olympia to reform our broken system of dealing with unpaid traffic fines

Message Recipients:
Your State Upper Chamber Representatives

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Your Message
Support HB 1282 & SB 5328: Keeping Drivers Licensed and Insured
Dear Senator:

I am writing to urge you to support HB 1282 and SB 5328, which reform DWLS3 to keep more drivers licensed and insured, and to free up scarce criminal justice resources. A DWLS3 charge typically occurs when a driver receives a ticket for a moving violation (such as speeding or failing to signal) and does not comply with deadlines to pay the ticket or appear in court to contest it. The failure to pay or appear leads to license suspension, and if the person is later stopped while driving, a DWLS3 charge may be filed. Treating DWLS3 as a crime does not work.

* DWLS3 cases waste scarce criminal justice and taxpayer resources. A conservative estimate of the costs of enforcing DWLS3 in Washington for the years 1994-2015 is more than $1.3 billion. Since the current version of DWLS3 went into effect, nearly 1.5 million criminal charges for DWLS3 have been filed, more than any other type of crime, resulting in nearly 900,000 convictions. Police, prosecutors, and courts should not be wasting scarce public resources enforcing DWLS3. Resources could be better invested in reducing real public safety risks like distracted and impaired driving.

* HB 1282 and SB 5328 will hold drivers accountable for their actions. Many people charged with DWLS3 have simply struggled to pay tickets and associated late charges that quickly escalate, due to poverty. These people typically need to keep driving to get to work, pick up kids, attend medical appointments, etc., especially in areas with limited public transportation options. Rather than suspend their license and saddle them with criminal charges that can impact employment and housing, civil enforcement mechanisms provide accountability at lower cost to taxpayers.

* DWLS3 reform does not threaten public safety. Law enforcement has other tools available to deal with drivers who are actually dangerous. These include, for example, criminal charges for negligent or reckless driving, DUI, or being a habitual offender. The biggest threats to roadway safety are impaired driving, reckless speeding, and distracted driving. Those are the highest priorities for traffic safety.

* HB 1282 and SB 5328 will keep drivers licensed and insured. If someone has their license suspended for failing to comply with the terms of a moving violation, they are likely to lose insurance. Because most of these drivers are impoverished, the occupational restricted license is also too expensive for them, which is why it is so infrequently used.

* DWLS3 disproportionately impacts people of color and young adults. DWLS3 enforcement varies greatly from city to city and county to county. Unequal and unfair enforcement especially impacts poor people and young people. People of color are more likely to be charged with DWLS3 than white people, which furthers the racial disparities in our state's criminal justice system.

Reforming DWLS3 and using civil enforcement works. Several states do not treat DWLS3 as a crime. Many local jurisdictions in Washington, including the cities of Yakima and Seattle, primarily treat it as a civil infraction. In fact, DWLS3 was not a criminal offense in Washington state until 1993. Passing HB 1282 and SB 5328 will free up scarce criminal justice system resources for more pressing roadway safety priorities and hold drivers accountable in a way that is fair and just. I urge you to support HB 1282 and SB 5328.


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