That’s because more than a half-million drivers in the nation’s fourth-largest city are currently ineligible to renew their licenses because of unpaid traffic tickets, according to a multi-organizational study.
The same problem exists elsewhere in Texas as well, FOX 26 of Houston reported.
One problem is that drivers who fail to pay their tickets on time also get slapped with late fees – which can add up quickly.
Driver Jude Augustin, who lost his license, said that’s what happened to him, according to FOX 26.
“I’ve missed out on great, great jobs just because of that driver’s license,” Augustin told the station. “I didn’t have that driver’s license so I missed out on great offshore jobs and work here in the city.”
The problem mostly affects low-income drivers, according to FOX 26.
Houston drivers received a few recent breaks: The Texas Legislature last year eliminated the state’s Driver Responsibility Program, which suspended licenses for unpaid tickets, and the Harris County Commissioners Court, which covers Houston and surrounding municipalities, voted just this month to end its OmniBase program, under which some 25,000 licenses were blocked, the station reported.
However, other drivers may be affected by the Failure to Appear and Pay Program, the report said.
Emily Gerrick, managing attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project, claimed that losing a driver’s license causes many low-income Texans to struggle to keep their jobs and housing.
“As you can imagine, a lot of people lose their jobs or can’t get employment if they don’t have their driver’s license,” she said. “It seems only to create harm for people who are already vulnerable and struggling financially and has huge racial disparities.”
The study by Driven By Debt, Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project found, for example, that 40 percent of those with unpaid tickets were Black, even though Blacks represent just 22 percent of the city’s population.
Augustin found help with his debts through a program run by the Fountain of Praise church, FOX 26 reported. He eventually paid his fines, restored his license and found a better job.