Under new law, unpaid tickets will no longer lead to suspended licenses

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Those who do not pay traffic tickets will no longer have their driver’s licenses suspended starting in 2023.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5226 on Monday, which will end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses indefinitely if a driver failed to pay a ticket.

“Suspending a driver’s license just because a person cannot pay a fine is quite simply penalizing poverty,” said Antonio Ginatta, policy director at Columbia Legal Services. “A driver’s license is indispensable, often necessary to get to work, to get to doctor’s appointments, or to drive your kids to school.”

Currently, a traffic ticket gives drivers only three options:

1) To admit committing the infraction and pay the full amount

2) To request a hearing to contest the ticket

3) To request a hearing to lower the cost of the ticket.

The signing of SB 5226 created a fourth option that allows drivers to admit responsibility and request to be put on a payment plan.

SB 5226 is effective as of January 1, 2023.

Driver’s license suspensions will continue, but under the new law, a person would only have their license suspended if they had three or more traffic tickets in a year, or four within two years.

The suspension would be for at least 60 days and requires the driver to take a safe driving course.

Suspensions would also continue if a driver doesn’t reply to a ticket or fails to appear at a hearing related to the ticket.

While some groups pushed to end suspensions for not appearing at hearings for payment-related reasons, the final version of the bill does not include that protection.