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The purpose of the Forsyth County Drive Program is to provide an avenue through which individuals burdened by economic hardship may engage with the court system to have their driver’s license restored.

North Carolina General Statute § 20-24.1 dictates that the Department of Motor Vehicles must revoke the driver’s license of a person charged with a motor vehicle offense who failed to appear in court or failed to pay a fine, penalty, or court costs ordered by the court. Statewide, of the 1.3 million people who had their driver’s license suspended in the state, 21 percent are for failing to pay traffic fines or court fees while 66 percent are for failure to appear in court. More specifically, approximately 9,693 drivers out of 284,922 Forsyth County residents of driving age have a suspended license for unpaid traffic court fines and fees. Although many driver’s license suspensions in North Carolina are denoted as a failure to appear, less is known about the causes of FTAs. While some individuals avoid court for problematic reasons, such as willful avoidance of court obligations, there are also potential financial and indigency-related causes for failing to appear. For example, someone who cannot afford to take a day off work lest they lose their job or who cannot afford childcare may not appear.

A suspended license can result in negative consequences ranging from job loss, to restricted career opportunities, to limited mobility. Additionally, when an individual drives while their license is revoked, they may face subsequent prosecution and accrue additional fines. As the court stated in Thomas v. Haslam,[1] “[court] debt leads to a license revocation; the revocation leads to another conviction, this time for driving on a revoked license; the new conviction creates more debt; and the cycle begins again, with the driver, who was already indigent, only deeper in . . . a debt spiral.”

Unbeknownst to many North Carolina drivers, state statue provides that an individual may restore their driver’s license by demonstrating that the failure to pay court fees and fines “was not willful” and that the person “is making a good faith effort to pay” or that the amount “should be remitted.” The Forsyth County DRIVE program intends aid individuals in making this presentation to the court with the goal of license restoration.

[1] Thomas v. Halsam, 329 F. Supp. 3d 475 (M.D. Tenn. 2018) (following class certification, finding that driver’s license revocation violated due process and equal protection rights), vacated as moot sub nom. Thomas v. Lee, 776 F. App’x 910 (6th Cir. 2019).