Anyone who regularly drives a car in Chicago knows that it’s easy to get a ticket. The City issues millions of vehicle-related tickets every year. The majority are for non-moving violations totally unrelated to unsafe driving. This is a big money maker for Chicago, which collects hundreds of millions of dollars every year (7% of the City’s entire operating budget) from parking tickets.

For those without the means to pay right away, the financial burden associated with tickets can quickly balloon and become unmanageable as fines double and additional fines accrue. As reported by ProPublica, this cycle of debt results in suspended driver’s licenses, lost jobs, missed employment opportunities, and even bankruptcy for thousands of Chicago residents.

A new report from the Woodstock Institute shows that tickets are issued disproportionately to drivers who reside in Chicago’s low-income and minority communities, and that the residents of these communities are disproportionately suffering the consequences.

The report, entitled The Debt Spiral, analyzed data obtained through public records requests to the City and the State and found that in 2017, tickets were 40 percent more likely to be issued to drivers from low- and moderate-income zip codes than drivers from higher-income zip codes, and 40 percent more likely to be issued to drivers from minority communities than drivers from non-minority zip codes. Not surprisingly, the report also found that drivers from and lower-income and minority areas were more likely to have their driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay than other ticket recipients, and twice as likely to file for bankruptcy.

Recently, the Sun-Times referred to people whose lives have been upended by aggressive ticketing and collection practices are as “scofflaws.” But the Debt Spiral report lays bare the reality that the City’s punitive policies are unfairly squeezing those who can least afford it.

One sensible step toward stopping the “debt spiral” created by ticket debt is to limit the practice of suspending people’s driver’s licenses for failure to pay tickets and other non-moving violations. That change, which was recommended in Woodstock’s report and endorsed in a recent Chicago Sun-Times editorial, could become a reality if the Illinois General Assembly passes SB 2411 (Aquino/Ammons). That measure, also known as the License to Work Act, passed the Senate in May but still needs House approval and the Governor’s signature to become law.

For more information about the License to Work Act, please click here.

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