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The Michigan Department of State is hosting free in-person events across the state to help people regain their driver’s licenses. Some of these people lost their driving privileges for simply being unable to afford parking tickets. A law change that went into effect last year is making it possible for about 350,000 to restore their licenses. (DTE Energy photo)

The Michigan Department of State will hold a free clinic in Detroit next week as it works to aid tens of thousands of residents in restoring driver’s licenses that may have been suspended for failing to appear in court or pay legal or parking fines. 

One stop shop for reinstating suspended licenses

The Michigan Department of State clinics can help drivers whose licenses were suspended for failing to appear in court for the following judgements: 

  • Open Intoxicants in Vehicle
  • Open Intoxicants in Vehicle (Passenger)
  • Person Under 21 Transport/Possess in Vehicle
  • Person Under 21 Transport/Possess in Vehicle (Passenger)
  • MIP (Person Under 21 Purchase/Consume/Possess Liquor)
  • Failure to Comply with Civil Infraction
  • Person Under 21 Used Fraudulent ID to Purchase Liquor
  • Sold/Furnished Alcoholic Liquor to a Person Under 21
  • Felonious Driving
  • Controlled Substance
  • False Report or Threat of Bomb/Harmful Device (School)
  • Failing to pay parking tickets

Under state legislation that went into effect in October, about 350,000 people across the state, including 67,000 in Detroit alone, are now eligible to have restrictions on their licenses lifted and state officials are hosting free clinics across Michigan to ensure those who qualify are getting their licenses back, said Khyla Craine, deputy legal director for the Department of State. 

The “Road to Restoration” clinics are offered through the Department of State with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, DTE Energy and other partners. The next clinic is April 13 at Goodwill Industries at 3111 Grand River Avenue.

Julie Hurwitz, vice president of the Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, said suspending driver’s licenses can result in a “cycle of poverty.”

“There’s the history of the criminalization of these driver’s license issues that have just perpetuated this cycle, which has prevented so many people in the Detroit and southeast Michigan community from being able to get out from under poverty,” Hurwitz said. 

Craine noted there are three buckets that eligible people fall into; individuals with either a temporary license, an outstanding violation on their record such as failing to appear in court, or unresolved parking violations.

“There are people all around the state who paid for a car, got insurance, paid to fill their tank and after all that can’t afford the ticket they got, so they can’t drive,” Craine said. 

The Department of State mailed letters to those impacted, posted the letters to their online accounts and is hosting the clinics in different parts of the state. 

Craine said there have been two clinics already. Some have also drawn people who don’t qualify to get their licenses restored, but she said the state “isn’t turning anyone away.”

“Our first priority is those Michiganders who this law directly impacts, but if there was a Michigander that registers, we are happy to help them,” she said. “Our volunteer attorneys and our Michigan Department of State staff and AG staff are more than happy to help them figure out what their particular road is to restore their driving privilege as well.”

The Detroit Justice Center published a report called Highway Robbery in 2020 that details some of the issues around people losing their driver’s license. The report noted that Detroiters already have to pay a lot of money to own and drive a car, including paying the highest auto insurance premiums in the country at around $5,410 a year. The report also said about 60% of Detroiters drive without insurance, which has a penalty that can result in someone losing their license.

The report from the DJC, one of the state’s partners in hosting the free clinics, also looked at the high number of working Detroiters – around 70% – who commute to the suburbs for their jobs. 

Hurwitz said because of these factors, suspending driver’s licenses can be especially harmful in a city like Detroit.

“The metro Detroit area has such horrible public transportation, the only way people can really get to where they need to be is to be able to have access to cars, and to be able to drive cars,” Hurwitz said.

You can register online for the upcoming clinic and learn more about other events in Muskegon, Ypsilanti and Grand Rapids on the Department of State website.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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