SB-404 would criminalize an extraordinary number of Wisconsinites for conduct unrelated to reckless driving or traffic safety, resulting in significant costs for an already overburdened criminal legal system.
Under the bill, the penalties for Operating While Suspended and Operating while After Revocation would increase from a civil forfeiture to a Class B and Class A misdemeanor, respectively. The bill would also increase the penalty for Operating Without a License to a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense, and a Class A misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense.
Counterintuitively, most driver’s license suspensions in Wisconsin—over 55%—are imposed solely as a sanction for nonpayment of ticket debt, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT). Between 2013-2022, Wisconsin imposed an average of over 201,600 driver’s license suspensions each year to collect unpaid ticket debt. Each year, there are more debt-based license suspensions than safety-related suspensions in Wisconsin.
DOT data also shows there were over 53,000 convictions for Operating While Suspended, over 14,000 convictions for Operating After Revocation, and over 31,500 convictions for Operating Without a License in 2022 alone. Making driving with a suspended or revoked license or driving without a license criminal offenses would dramatically increase the criminal caseload across the state, resulting in significant costs to the system for prosecutors, public defenders, and other system players.