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Thousands of Michigan drivers can get their licenses back starting October 1 due to law changes

Michigan law will no longer require license suspensions for many infractions unrelated to driving safety
Thomas Hawk
Flickr/Creative Commons
Michigan law will no longer require license suspensions for many infractions unrelated to driving safety.

Roughly 35,000 Michigan drivers will be able to get their licenses reinstated starting October 1.

That's the result of changes to state laws that used to require license suspensions for many infractions unrelated to driving safety, such as unpaid fees.

Detroit resident Kamal Lukata Anderson said he paid thousands of dollars on such fees. He said he eventually had to file for bankruptcy because he could not keep up with the monthly payments.

He also spent time in the county jail for driving without a license.

"I was in jail with individuals who were on their way to prison for murder, for embezzlement, for drug dealing," said Anderson. "And people were laughing, because it's like what are you doing in here with a suspended license?"

Anderson is now a school bus driver. He said many Detroiters lose their licenses for driving without insurance like he did.

He said they often have no choice — because of the high poverty rate in Detroit, they can't afford insurance, and the bus system is too unreliable and doesn't go far enough outside city limits.

The changes in the law were the result of recommendations made by the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, a bipartisan group of legislators and stakeholders, which found that using license suspension as a punishment for a wide variety of infractions and offenses was ineffective and counterproductive.

“When the Task Force looked at data across the state, we expected to see people in jail for assault or robbery,” said Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, who co-chaired the task force. “But what we found was tens of thousands of people getting locked up for driving on a suspended license. That’s not what jail is for, nor is it what taxpayers expect from an efficient justice system. These reforms are helping the justice system be more effective and helping people to stay in the workforce.”

More than 73,000 Michiganders will have infractions removed, with approximately half able to use their existing license or get a new one immediately. The Department of State will send letters directly to impacted residents, explaining which category they’re in and what they need to do for license reinstatement.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.