The state Motor Vehicle Division lifted the suspensions of more than 100,000 driver’s licenses, the division announced on Wednesday.
The decision came after the governor signed a bill passed in this year’s legislative session that allowed those whose driver’s licenses were suspended solely for the failure to pay a fine for traffic or criminal offenses or appear in court to have their licenses returned.
The fines or citations still apply to the drivers.
The restoration of driving privileges did not apply to those who lost their licenses for other reasons, like those who accumulated too many points for infractions or being habitually reckless or negligent while driving.
The bill, SB 47, was a bipartisan effort and passed the Senate 33-1 then the House 50-12 and will apply going forward, which means that no one will lose their license for failure to pay or appear in court.
Those contacted about the reinstatements include drivers whose licenses were active within the last five years. The MVD will send an email to the email on file to those. If no email is associated with an account, the MVD will send a notification in the mail for those who had a license active in the last year.
Those with expired licenses will still need to pay to obtain new licenses and, if the licenses had been expired for more than five years, go through the testing process.
The Fine & Fees Justice Center found that such suspensions disproportionately impacted lower income and rural residents. The survey found that those who had to pay such fees had to give up on essentials like food and groceries or clothing to pay their fine and fees.
After the bill’s passage, the group said that New Mexico suspended 183,000 driver’s licenses between 2019 and 2021 because of a court debt or missed court hearing.
“Debt-based license suspensions force an impossible choice: stop driving — and lose access to work and basic necessities — or keep driving, thus risking arrest and risk more more unaffordable fines and fees and further criminal consequences,” Monica Ault, New Mexico State Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center, said in a statement from April.
Correction: This story originally said this only applied to those who lost their licenses within the last five years. It applies to all those who had their licenses suspended for debt reasons, but only those who had licenses within the last five years will be contacted.