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TN license revocation can create hard-to-escape debt whirlpool

There are plenty of situations that can lead to a person having a driver's license revoked. As we noted in a post in January, a first-time charge of driving under the influence can result in steep fines and significant jail time. And then there's the separate process under which the Tennessee Department of Safety revokes your license.

As that post emphasized, there are steps you not only can take, but need to take, separately from dealing with the criminal charges in order to protect your access to driving privileges. Failure to address the administrative aspects of license revocation can leave you without the flexibility that's needed to live your life.

Important destinations such as school and work may be put out of easy reach. And when that happens, it can create circumstances that send a person into a debt spiral from which it can be tough to escape. As an example, consider the case described in a New York Times article earlier this year.

It tells of a Tennessee man who has landed and lost four jobs in recent years. It's not because of his criminal record. It's because he hasn't been able to come up with the $4,509.22 he owes to get his driver's license reinstated.

Lacking the means to restore his license, this 44-year-old man has done what a lot of low-income folks in Tennessee have done. He's driven without one. In his and similar cases, new citations have resulted in new fines and fees. Sometimes, the mounting infractions have led to incarceration, which in turn has led to lost jobs. The cycle repeats and people go deeper into debt.

The 2011 law that grants Tennessee counties power to go after unpaid court costs and fines is under some scrutiny, though. Critics say it's not achieving its expected goals and is taking too great a toll on low-income individuals.

One sponsor of the legislation defends the measure. He says the law's provisions do allow people to take up to a year to pay what's owed and seek a hardship license for work. But some public defenders, and at least one judge, have said they weren't aware that the latter stipulation even existed.

Considering the consequences and the possible whirlpool of trouble that can be created by failing to deal with license revocation or suspension, it's clear that working with an attorney to protect one's rights is critical.

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