SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — San Francisco Superior Court has cleared 88,000 cases of suspended driver’s licenses for people who failed to appear in traffic court, Mayor London Breed announced Tuesday.

Breed said the move to clear the suspended driver’s licenses makes San Francisco the first city in the nation to do so. Although San Francisco Superior Court two years ago had eliminated
the practice of suspending licenses for those who didn’t appear in court, it lacked the resources to clear cases that had already been filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

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“For some people, traffic citations like a speeding ticket or a parking ticket are annoyances but ones that we can deal with. But for others, they can be a major, major financial setback,” Breed said.

“Imagine already struggling to pay your bills and then you receive a notice in the mail that your driver’s license was suspended, not only can you not drive legally but more and more companies require a driver’s license for employment,” she said.

“We discovered the biggest reason that people don’t show up for their traffic court date is because they cannot afford to pay the fees.

People are also worried that if they show up, they’d be forced to give up their driver’s license and sadly some are afraid they might get arrested,” she said.

When the city first began looking into clearing the backlogged suspended driver’s license cases, Breed said, the city learned it would cost only about $15,000 to do so.

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“For $15,000, we could create a clean slate for everyone in our system. It may seem like a small amount, but it is going to have a tremendous impact on so many people’s lives,” she said.

The move only affects those whose licenses were suspended for failing to appear in traffic court. It does not affect those whose licenses were suspended for driving recklessly or due to holds from other counties.

“While we need to have consequences and penalties for people who break the law, we do not want to do this in a way that makes it harder for people to get a second chance,” Breed said. “By taking this step, we are making it possible for thousands of people to get back to work, to grow our economy and create better lives for themselves and their families.”

“We want driver’s license suspension to be about safety,” said Elisa Della-Piana, legal director for Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “San Francisco is a leader in this and we call on other communities to follow San Francisco’s lead.

“For people who are low-wage workers, for communities of color, this is a punishment for being poor,” she said.

Supervisor Shamann Walton said, “Going back and retroactively eliminating these unnecessary fines that stifle folks who are trying to work hard to earn a living is the right thing to do.”

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