Study: Driver's license suspensions could boost depression and unemployment

A man walks to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Lawrence, Mass. on May 5. (Charles Krupa/AP)
A man walks to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles office in Lawrence, Mass. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Massachusetts residents can have their driver's license suspended for a range of reasons that have nothing to do with driving, such as failing to pay their taxes, owing money for child support and even fare evasion on public transit.

But a new study suggests such penalties can make it harder for low-income people to stay healthy and hold down a job.

Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania interviewed 14 people in New Jersey who had their licenses suspended for reasons that did not involve driving. Most were for debt-related reasons, said researcher Emma Sartin.

A majority of the participants reported increased depression, stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. Researchers also pointed out a “seemingly close relationship” between license suspension and substance abuse.

Participants also said the suspension limited their job opportunities since some jobs require driver's licenses. The suspensions also resulted in strained personal relationships with friends and family, as people needed to rely on others for transportation.

“Moving forward we’re definitely hoping to keep expanding this research and just keep this debate going about what are these policies actually doing, how can we improve them, and how can we continue to remove inequities in the transportation system,” Sartin said.

Fines and Fees Justice Center reported last summer that 22 states have enacted laws to end debt-related driving suspensions, and eight have approved limits for suspensions related to failure to show up to court hearings.

Massachusetts state lawmakers in the House and Senate are considering bills to end debt-related incarceration and license suspensions.

Congress is also considering legislation that would provide grants to states that eliminate debt-related license suspensions in both the U.S. House and Senate.

An MBTA spokesperson said the agency plans to discuss new fare evasion regulations with the board this spring.


Darryl C. Murphy Host
Darryl C. Murphy is the host of WBUR's daily news and culture podcast, "The Common."



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