The New York Times wrote a fascinating story on the abuse of driver’s license suspensions for non-driving violations and shared their opinion that this practice should end.
I have shared this belief for many years, and I have heard first-hand how it has torn apart lives for many who are working to rehab themselves or re-enter the workforce. This hurdle creates an almost insurmountable barrier to getting back on the straight and narrow.
To complicate the matters in Pennsylvania, the majority of the non-driving related violations do not allow access to the one program created by our government to prevent this – the Occupational Limited License (Work License). Being convicted of a minor drug violation or falling into arrears with child support are two disqualifying violations for the work license – often leaving the person unable to meet the commitments needed to move past and recover from these issues.
Drug Charges Causing License Suspension
Minor drug violations are causing license suspension, even when no automobile was involved, was initially enacted in the “War On Drugs” by the federal government. With significant political change regarding the “War On Drugs” efforts it is time to pull back on using driver’s license suspensions as the deterrent to potential violators. There have been many studies showing that license suspension has too much of an impact on communities to be handed out in efforts to curtail non-driver safety issues. The stories told to me over the last 16 years prove this issue has become so large that most stuck in The Suspension Snowball effect caused by these improper suspensions feel they will never get out. I regularly hear from clients how it would be easier to continue to drive to get to work or medical appointments than to work toward and pay for the restoration of their license. This perception is correct until they realize there is increased suspension time and fees grow exponentially as they tumble deeper into the snowball effect. When the time comes, and they are forced to focus on the wreckage, they are deeper into the issues, and the frustration and desperation returns.
There is an alternative. In Pennsylvania, any doctor, police officer, or concerned official may (and in some cases is required) to report to the medical unit at PennDOT that a driver is unsafe and abusing substances. By offering this reporting process, the DOT can prevent the truly dangerous and habitual drug abusers from holding a valid driver’s license. We do not need to maintain a system that encompasses every violation, no matter how minor, and demands the same penalty with no option.
Child Support Arrears Causing License Suspension
Having your license suspended for falling behind on child support must be the MOST detrimental version of license suspension devised. The idea was based on deterring someone from choosing NOT to pay support owed by not allowing them to hold a driver’s license. This sounds great until you realize that a good portion of those falling behind on support are not willingly avoiding the requirement. It would be lazy to assume the threat of license suspension would be a valuable deterrent in these cases. Experience has shown this type of punishment to harm the person falling into arrears and harm the child expecting those payments. By removing the payors ability to get to work and take care of daily obligations, you cripple their ability to repay and become current. This form of the suspension snowball is an exponential growth of money owed as the driver tries to continue working by risking additional license suspension and fees by driving illegally…with no options as they are denied access to the Occupational Limited License.
The New York Times article stated;
And the suspension itself is not the only hardship. To regain their licenses, people must pay reinstatement fees, which often come on top of court fees and fines. The record of suspension can make it more difficult or expensive for people to get insurance, increasing the likelihood that they will simply drive without it. These burdens fall most heavily on low-wage workers, making it even more difficult for them to live productive, law-abiding lives.
Notice of Suspension
Both of the issues discussed above are enhanced by the ineptitude of the Suspension Notification system in Pennsylvania. In both cases the instability of individuals caught in these situations causes the same instability in housing and living arrangements. As an example, it is common for someone who loses their job to also lose their housing as they move to find lower costs. At the same time, our state only notifies a person of their obligations by postal mail and is not permitted to forward this mail through a forwarding request to the US Postal Service. The confusion of not being made aware of pending suspension time, not being told of the requirement to surrender a license, or pay a restoration fee again multiplies the issues faced by this person and prohibits recovery. This additionally has the effect of causing distrust and confusion in the person who does look to get out of the snowball effect.
No Limited Work License
Pennsylvania has a great program that allows certain suspended drivers access to a limited license to drive for work, school, and medical purposes. This limited license creates an extra level of supervision to ensure a driver is safe and is extra aware of the rules…yet, the state of Pennsylvania does not allow anyone who runs afoul of these two issues access to this limited license. To add insult to the hardship of recovery for a resident of PA is the one program offered to drivers who drive drunk, in some cases dangerously, is not available to someone who had a minor drug possession or fell behind on paying the bills.
Why do these policies still exist?