Getting a traffic ticket is frustrating for everyone, but for some without the ability to pay for those traffic tickets, it’s crippling. Temple Beth El has partnered with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy to create the Fair Driving Clinic, a community initiative designed to help Charlotte drivers with limited financial resources get their driver’s licenses back.
Black drivers, particularly Black drivers with low incomes, make up a disproportionate number of drivers who are stopped by the police. In fact, according to data from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a Black driver in North Carolina is 95% more likely to be stopped than a White driver, and Black drivers are more than 200% more likely than White drivers to be pulled over for a traffic light or stop sign violation.
These repeated interactions with police are expensive. When fines range from $200-$300 per traffic violation, many people with low incomes simply cannot afford to resolve their traffic tickets, which leads to a suspended license. After their driver’s license is suspended, drivers continue to be stopped by police and rack up additional tickets for driving without a license. This issue affects nearly 60,000 people in Mecklenburg County with suspended or revoked driver’s licenses, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Volunteers from the clinic believe that these widespread suspensions create a vicious cycle and disproportionately hurt certain communities.
“The criminal justice system is built in a way that puts an undue burden on communities of color,” said Jacob Friedman, co-leader of Temple Beth El’s criminal justice issue team, “We felt the best way to address this was by getting involved in a tangible issue like driver’s license restorations, where we could make a difference.”
With these issues in mind, Temple Beth El launched its first driver’s license clinic in January, helping ten clients with their driving records. Volunteers at the clinic gathered stories from the clients and brought those stories to court in order to get relief for the clients from fees and charges. The temple plans to host its second clinic this summer and is expanding its efforts to help 50 to 100 clients. To achieve this goal, the clinic will need an influx of volunteer support from the Jewish community.
If you’re interested in learning more about the driver’s license clinic, volunteering, or participating, please visit https://templebethel.org/action-justice/fair-driving-clinic/ or contact FairDrivingClinicCLT@gmail.com.