Michigan Finally Does Away with Driver Responsibility Fees

By: Bridget Clerkin February 26, 2018
A new law in Michigan relieves the state's motorists of driver responsibility fees—onerous fines charged on top of traffic tickets that became burdensome to the poor.

To err is human; to forgive is divine—and many Michiganders likely agree. After years of paying for past driving transgressions, their debt will be absolved by the state, offering a financial blessing many Michigan motorists were unsure would ever come.

Michigan’s legislature overwhelmingly passed a measure this month to do away with costly driver responsibility fees, a fine charged to drivers who’ve been ticketed for drunk driving, caused injury or death in an accident, or racked up at least seven points on their licenses from traffic citations.

Plenty of Great Lake State residents will benefit from the change of heart: more than 70,000 drivers in Detroit alone were estimated to be paying off responsibility fines, with the statewide total approximated at 350,000.

Costing drivers anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per year for two years, the penalties have helped the state amass a small fortune since the program was adopted in 2003. As it stands, Michigan residents owe a collective $637 million in outstanding responsibility fees.

The new bill gives the state until this October to not only phase out the fee schedule—and prevent the creation of any new fines—but also forgive that mountain of past debts incurred by motorists under the program.

Many are hoping an end to driver responsibility fees will help stymie the cycle of poverty that the program has been charged with helping create and promote. Still, with the revenue stream gone, the state will now have to find new ways to fill the financial gap.

Upon its creation, the program was billed as a way to discourage repeated bad driving behavior through economic incentive. (The “responsibility” costs were added on top of any fines attached to traffic tickets, and any driver who couldn’t make the payments lost his or her license.)

But its adoption dovetailed with a $1.6 billion budget crisis in Michigan, and it soon became clear the idea was much more monetarily motivated, with even the law’s creator, former state Senator Jud Gilbert (R-Algonac), admitting “it seemed like it was all about the money.”

With hundreds of thousands across the state bailing lawmakers out of that accounting conundrum, it seems the time has finally come for the state to pay its drivers back.

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