KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Avoiding a suspended license as numbers climb

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MAIZE, Kan. (KAKE) -

"It's communication, communication, communication. That's number one," said Sgt. Brandon Stitt, Maize Police.

An out of control epidemic, that's what some people are calling the number of Kansans with suspended drivers licenses.  We now know the problem is worse than we first reported on Monday.

KAKE News Investigates showed you then how easily simple speeding or parking tickets can turn into lifelong debt for some 137,000 Kansans.  That total was from June, the most recent number available at the time.

Since then, we've gotten updated numbers from the Kansas Department of Revenue, showing that more than 213,000 Kansans have suspended licenses, about half of them from Sedgwick County and the City of Wichita.

So what can you do to avoid the trap?

Local police and traffic court judges across the state say finding someone with a suspended license behind the wheel is a regular occurrence.  Partially because there are just so many with suspended licenses.  Just as often, they say it's because they couldn't afford the original ticket, needed to keep working to pay the bills, and didn't know they had any options.

"Then  trying to get things straightened out is difficult," said former traffic court judge Phil Journey.  "It takes specific knowledge that many people simply don't have and don't know how to find out."

While the various options are quite complicated, Maize Police Sergeant Brandon Stitt says there are two pieces of advice that can prevent a single traffic violation from spiraling out of control.

"That is key," Stitt said. "Number one make sure your address is current.  Number two, communicate."

"First of all, call us," said Sarah Javier, the Maize Municipal Court Clerk.  "Contact us.  Most of the people who have 30 day letters, get suspended licenses, they don't actually contact the court."

Javier says the sooner the better when it comes to making that all.  Don't wait more than a day or two after the ticket.

"We're more willing to work with you if you call before your court date," she added.  "If you call 5 minutes before court starts I really can't do a whole lot for you."

Javier says good communication can help you set up a payment plan to get rid of that expensive ticket. It can even help if you have to miss a payment.

And, under a new state law this year, the judge can even waive the fees and late charges on a ticket in cases where the defendant has proved the cost would be a "manifest hardship" on them or their family.

"If you can't make a payment you can't make a payment.  And the judge will typically understand that," Stitt said.

Another reason to call quickly?  Just how long you have can vary.  While the court date is typically about 30 days after you got the ticket, like in Maize, in cities like Wichita it's just ten days.

And, though most courts will send multiple warnings, they need your current address if you're going to get the warning.  So, if the address on your driver's license is wrong when you get the ticket, tell the officer.  And if you move before paying off the ticket, tell the court first then change the address with the Department of Revenue. 

In Maize, "you have approximately 60 days from the time that you're issued the citation before any kind of action against your drivers license is taken," Stitt said.

After the state suspends your license, things get even more complicated.  But you still have options once the original ticket is taken care of.  Then you may be able to apply for a restricted license to get to work or a moped license until the suspension is cleared.  

Getting the suspension lifted will likely cost extra money and you have to apply through the Kansas Department of Revenue.  Don't count on the local court where you paid your ticket to take care of that for you. 

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