It seems logical: If you want to collect on unpaid parking ticket or vehicle sticker violations, threaten to revoke driver's licenses of people who don't pay.

Chicago Mayor Harold Washington was among those who lobbied in the 1980s for the legislative change to allow license suspensions for ticket debt, seeing it as a way to prod payment and increase revenue, according to ProPublica Illinois.

And it worked. More than half those threatened with license suspension paid up or agreed to payment plans.

Then, the law of unintended consequences came crashing down.

It turned out more tickets were issued to people in low- and moderate-income areas, a Woodstock Institute study showed.

It turned out delinquent tickets were considerably more common in those areas. And, as ProPublica and WBEZ discovered, it turned out the unpaid tickets sometimes triggered a downward spiral in which low-income drivers risked falling into the criminal justice system by driving on a suspended license or were declaring bankruptcy with mounting ticket debt and fines as their motivation.

Both outcomes actually reduce the opportunity for people to go to work, make some money and pay off the tickets.

Given the evidence, we think the legislature and Gov. J.B. Pritzker did the right thing in deciding to stop suspending licenses for people with backlogs of tickets for non-moving violations, beginning July 1. About 55,000 people will get their licenses reinstated if they lost driving privileges over unpaid tickets that didn't involve unsafe driving.

Without the threat of license suspension to compel people, won't fine collections fall short? Yes ... and no.

Ticket revenue in some areas will drop, to the tune of $15 million in Chicago. But in Cook County, State's Attorney Kim Foxx already had stopped prosecuting driver's license suspensions stemming from unpaid tickets, saying her office was spending too much taking those cases to court.

What happens now?

Parking tickets will still have to be written in areas where safety is a concern, but late fees should be structured fairly rather than skyrocketing so quickly that they preclude payment.

Some suburbs have given up on vehicle stickers as time-consuming and inefficient, but others are stepping up enforcement. In those towns, penalties should be designed with grace periods, reminders and low initial fines with a goal of getting the stickers on the cars rather than getting maximum funds out of the car owners.

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald, Jan. 23

Recommended for you