40,000 Vermonters could pay old traffic fines at reduced rates

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Thousands of Vermonters have the opportunity to pay off old traffic tickets at a reduced rate.

The driver restoration program, which runs until Nov. 30, is part of an effort to help people whose licenses were suspended because of unpaid traffic fines to get back on the road.

Vermonters with outstanding traffic tickets from before July 1, 2012 will be able to pay them off for $30 per ticket by applying by mail or email to the Vermont Judicial Bureau.

The judiciary, which manages the payment of traffic fines, estimates that between 40,000 and 44,000 people could be eligible to pay off tickets through the program.

That could amount to 100,000 tickets being settled, according to Tari Scott, chief of trial court operations.

Less than a week after the initiative began, more than a dozen people had submitted applications to pay off their tickets, judicial officials said.

Lawmakers designed and approved the program earlier this year as one element of a package that aims to reform the driver's license suspension system. The legislation also expunged unpaid tickets from before July 1, 1990, many of which had been damaged by fire. Vermonters with more recent traffic tickets can set up a payment plan if they cannot afford to pay all at once.

Under the new law, license suspension is no longer a penalty for certain crimes, including underage smoking.

At two driver's license restoration events held in 2015, in Chittenden County and Windsor County, people in certain areas could pay off unpaid traffic tickets at lower rates.

The new initiative, which began Sept. 1 and will last three months, is the first statewide restoration opportunity.

Advocates and members of the criminal justice community have highlighted how unpaid traffic fines can snowball to become significant costs that many people cannot afford. If they cannot pay off their tickets, their licenses remain suspended, which makes it difficult to get to work or run errands.

Christopher Curtis, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid, hailed the program as "a huge step in the right direction" that will allow thousands of people to get back on the roads.

"Vermonters with old tickets who were locked in a poverty trap of expensive tickets they couldn't afford have an opportunity to start over, pay a fraction of the old tickets and move on with their lives," Curtis said.

"That said, this is not a free pass," Curtis said. "Going forward it's critical that Vermonters know they do have to pay their traffic fines and maintain their insurance — for those who cannot afford the standard fine they can ask for a repayment plan over time, or they can ask the court to consider their income in setting the fine amount. Not paying is not an option."

Robert Ide, commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, encouraged people with tickets that qualify to utilize the program.

"We view this as a one-time opportunity," Ide said. "Those people who have outstanding tickets and are currently under suspension would be well-advised to take advantage of this opportunity."


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