Traffic tickets can be expensive and sometime unaffordable. Unfortunately, failure to pay a traffic ticket can have more serious consequences than your case being sent to collections. You could lose your driver’s license. And, if you continue to drive, you could be arrested and your car impounded.
When a court in Washington does not receive payment for a traffic ticket, it refers the matter to the Department of Licensing. The DOL then mails a notice to the driver that his license will be suspended. The DOL sends this notice to the mailing address it has associated with the driving record. With no further notice, the DOL marks the driving record as “suspended.”
Continuing to drive with a license that has been suspended due to an unpaid traffic ticket is a crime: Driving with a Suspended License in the Third Degree (DWLS 3), a simple misdemeanor. DWLS 3 is the most common crime that the San Juan County District Court deals with. While any crime is serious, DWLS 3 is arguably the least so. Any simple misdemeanor is theoretically punishable with up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. However, the court typically treats DWLS 3 cases leniently.
It is worth noting that a driver commits the crime of DWLS 3 whether or not he has received actual notice of suspension of his license. So long as the DOL has mailed the notice to the driver, the driver is charged with “constructive notice.” Commonly the driver fails to keep his mailing address updated with the DOL and does not receive the notice. Nevertheless, the driver is guilty of the crime.
The San Juan County District Court has a “relicensing program” that allows eligible drivers to have their cases dismissed if they get their license back, which of course requires payment of the traffic ticket that caused their licenses to be suspended in the first place. Even if the driver is not eligible for this program, the District Court rarely imposes jail time for DWLS 3 unless the driver has a serious criminal history or is a repeat driving offender.
However, if a driver has been convicted of driving with a suspended license (of any degree) in the last five years, deputies in San Juan County who arrest a driver from DWLS 3 must impound the driver’s vehicle except under certain rare circumstances. Normally, the impound will be for 15 days if the driver has one prior conviction for driving with a suspended license, or 30 days if two such prior convictions. The driver must pay the impound company its fee to get the vehicle back. If the driver is unable to pay that fee, the company will sell the car to pay the fee. The Sheriff’s Office has no discretion on whether to impound the vehicle and no discretion to release it early.
With this in mind it is important (1) to keep your mailing address up-to-date with the DOL so you will receive any notices it sends (especially if you know of an unpaid traffic ticket); (2) to pay your traffic tickets; and (3) if your license is suspended, to not drive.
This website provides general information to the public on legal issues. These informational materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You should contact Brandli Law for advice on specific legal problems.
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