Almost 400 Rotorua residents have been threatened with losing the right to drive over unpaid traffic fines.

Figures obtained by the Rotorua Daily Post under the Official Information Act reveal Rotorua District Court sent 397 letters in the last two years warning people to pay their outstanding traffic fines or have their licences suspended.

The warning letters were sent under the Driver Licence Stop Order (DLSO) scheme, an initiative introduced in February 2014 to recover outstanding traffic-related debts.

Debtors who refused to pay their fines following a warning letter were suspended from driving until their fines were paid or a payment plan was set up.

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More than $230,000 had been directly recovered from Rotorua residents as a result of the warning letters, and only five people had their licences suspended.

Bay of Plenty debt collector Nick Kerr said many stubborn debtors refused to pay government fines because they saw it as a victimless offence.

"It's seen as being oppressive ... Because the government doesn't have a face, it deserves to be paid less in the eyes of the debtor, because no one's really losing," Mr Kerr said.

However, he said a fine should be treated no differently to a private goods or service debt. "The fine is a punishment for making a bad decision; for driving too fast, or not having a warrant or registration. It's a choice. [Not paying a fine] shows a lack of accountability."

However, Mr Kerr said a licence suspension could have far-reaching consequences. "You're taking away the ability of many people to work and to earn money," he said.

He said instead of a stop order, a limited licence could be issued which would allow people to drive to work or care commitments. "It's just going to create a vicious cycle of people who drive without licences. It would act as a deterrent to those who care about having a driver's licence, but it won't to those who don't."

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Nationwide, $11.6 million in fines had been paid as a direct result of the warning letters. Justice Minister Amy Adams announced the campaign had raked in $43.5 million in previously unpaid fines since February 2014.

Mrs Adams said 30,000 warning letters had been sent in the two years to January 30. However, the documents released to the Rotorua Daily Post showed 19,567 letters had been sent since February 2014.

The Ministry ceased actioning stop orders on July 1 last year, and was changing procedures ... to make them more effective but continued to send warning letters.