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Lawsuit could put hundreds of thousands of drivers back on road legally

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Thousands of Tennessee drivers who lost their licenses due to unpaid traffic tickets may get them back thanks to a lawsuit.

The lower level of 201 Poplar is full of people waiting for traffic court. Some will get fines, others will get their licenses suspended.

Derrick McNeal knows plenty about that.

"My license been suspended before," says McNeal. "They were driving violations, driving on suspended license, getting tickets and not paying them."

A lawsuit now making its way through federal court in Nashville could overturn one reason drivers end up with suspended licenses-not paying court fees for traffic offenses.

"It could impact hundreds of thousands of people across the state," says Josh Spickler, the Executive Director of Just City Memphis, a non-profit that supports people through the criminal justice system.

Just City has joined with other legal groups in filing a lawsuit against Tennessee's practice of suspending drivers licenses because of unpaid fines.

"Just because you can't afford to pay a traffic ticket,that does not make you a poor driver," says McNeal.

Just last week, a judge hearing the case approved a temporary restraining order that reinstated the licenses of the two Middle Tennessee plaintiffs in the case.

Those pushing for the change say it's a good sign of what's to come as they push to make the suit class action.

"It's a good indication of the strength of the case we think. We are very excited about it," says Spickler.

They say the issue could affect thousands of drivers, the majority of whom are African-Americans living in poverty.

"In Tennessee, having a license is crucial for having a job, getting good health care, getting your children to school, for just getting around. So people having to get around like this are suffering," says Spickler.

Many drivers know the struggle.

"It presents you not being able to go to work. You not being able to pay the ticket. You not being able to pay your bills," says Guinevere Floyd of South Memphis.

This may be the first step to getting many drivers back on the road.

The case will be back in court in a couple of weeks, but those filing the lawsuit admit this will be a long process as they work to make it a class action lawsuit.