Some more thoughts on that Tribune story about suspended drivers

If you just read that heading and said “more thoughts?  Where are the first thoughts?” then head over to this link to a blog piece I wrote for my firm’s website.

For those of you that have never driven while suspended, or with an expired license, I congratulate you.  You are a careful and responsible motorist.  We should have more motorists like you.

You may not even understand how it is that a person can get their drivers license suspended.  If you are curious, you can take a look at the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code here.  You will find 18 reasons to cancel a license in Section 5/6-201, 18 reasons to revoke in Section 5/6-205, and 47 reasons to suspend a drivers license in Section 5/6-206.  There are other grounds to cancel, suspend or revoke in other provisions.  Threatening your drivers license has become a popular way for our government to induce you to comply with various laws, such as parking restrictions, child support, or having a false ID.  It is so much easier for a politician to vote to raise revenue by increasing the court costs for a traffic ticket than an outright increase in income tax.

The most common reason that people get their licenses suspended is a result of financial problems.  Instead of living in a suburban home with a two car garage and driveway, they live in an apartment building with few available streetside parking spots, and they rack up parking tickets.  They have problems paying their bills and let their car insurance lapse.  They get a traffic ticket and can’t afford the exorbitant fines and costs.  They get behind on child support and can’t ever get caught up.

And each conviction for driving while suspended or revoked extends their period of suspension or revocation.

Why do they drive without a license?  Usually because they need to get to work or take their kids to school, and in the moment, they are willing to take the risk rather than lose their job or have their kids miss school.

And the overwhelming majority of people driving without a valid license are not causing accidents.  If you don’t believe me, just sit in any traffic courtroom and you will see that most people are stopped for having no valid registration, or a broken tail light, or some minor moving violation.

Keep in mind that liability insurance will not cover drivers who do not have a valid drivers license.  So do we want laws that tend to encourage people to drive illegally without valid insurance, or laws that give them a chance of at least a driving permit, conditioned on maintaining liability insurance, which will result in a higher percentage of insured drivers on the road?

So the question becomes:  what is the best policy to deal with this?  On the one hand, we can take the position of the Riverside police chief:  send them to prison, and extend their drivers suspensions and revocations for a decade.  Or we can take another position:  stop using people’s need to drive to support themselves and their families as a way to extort them into paying for government and stop making harder and harder for these people to get a legal license.

What do you think?

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