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By Matt Helms Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

Detroit is warning drivers with outstanding parking violations to pay up now or risk not being able to renew their licenses under a new state law set to take effect next month.

The law reduces the number of unpaid parking tickets a person can rack up without risking driving privileges. Starting May 16, the courts can put holds on license renewals for drivers with three unpaid parking citations or two outstanding tickets for parking in spaces reserved for people with disabilities.

Previously, a driver could get six tickets before such a penalty would be applied through the Secretary of State’s Office. The number of tickets for a space reserved for people with disabilities was the same.

Municipal Parking Director Shawny DeBerry couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, but unpaid parking tickets are an acute issue in Detroit. The city estimates parking scofflaws owe more than $40 million in unpaid tickets.

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, said not all Michigan cities use license holds to get people to pay up. Some put on a boot — a device that attaches to tires and immobilizes vehicles — or send unpaid tickets to collections agencies.

Anyone who gets a hold placed on their license will have to pay $45 to the state to clear the matter, in addition to the ticket cost and associated late fees.

Woodhams said the state issued 2,400 license holds for unpaid parking tickets in 2010. The department said it expected that number to rise under the tougher law, but it wasn’t predicting by how much.

Detroit’s parking department said it was encouraging drivers to pay their tickets before the law goes into effect or at least set up a payment plan to avoid the risk of losing driving privileges. Payment agreements require at least one-third of the total to be paid up front.

Drivers can pay at www.detroitmi.gov/parking, by phone at 313-963-9630 or in person at the parking department payment center, 1001 Tenth St.

The city said it will close its payment center at the Southwest Public Safety Center, 4700 W. Fort St., on April 30 because it’s not used enough to justify keeping it open as the city slashes its annual budget.

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