Continuing my series of articles on bad, sloppy, or downright evil lawmaking, I’d like to talk a little bit about how much states love to suspend or revoke people’s driver’s licenses.
A suspended license is a branch of a problem I mentioned earlier: Free Punishment. A suspended license is just a database entry and a form letter. It probably costs the state less than a buck, but causes a lot of misery to the person who suddenly can’t drive.
(It may even be a profitable punishment: Around here, after the period of suspension expires, there’s a $70 fee to have your license restored, plus a $5 fee to get a new copy of your license.)
In some cases, of course, suspending a license makes a lot of sense. Here in Illinois, they will take your license for reckless driving that kills or injures someone, driving drunk or refusing a breath test, drag racing, eluding police, or being involved in a lot of accidents or getting a lot of tickets for moving violations. We can argue over the details, but in general it makes good sense to take the license of someone who demonstrates they cannot handle the responsibility of driving.
Your license can also be suspended or revoked if you lied to get the license, if you haven’t paid for your license, of if they issued you a license in error when you weren’t really qualified. Again, these reasons all make sense.
In some cases, however, it’s clear that the suspensions are little more than legislative theater to get tough on something. For example, they can take someones license for “violating the Cannabis Control Act, the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act, or the Use of Intoxicating Compounds Act while that individual was in actual physical control of a motor vehicle.”
It doesn’t stop there: They can take a license if someone “Has been convicted of the following offenses that were committed while the person was operating or in actual physical control, as a driver, of a motor vehicle: criminal sexual assault, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, aggravated criminal sexual abuse, juvenile pimping, soliciting for a juvenile prostitute and the manufacture, sale or delivery of controlled substances or instruments used for illegal drug use or abuse in which case the driver’s driving privileges shall be suspended for one year[.]”
In other words, if you have a valid license which you obtained legitimately, and you haven’t done anything that shows your driving endangers other people, they can still take it from you. None of the crimes in the last two paragraphs involves the use of a vehicle as an element of the crime, yet you can still lose your license just because you happen to commit the crime while driving a car.
I’m not saying that people who commit those crimes shouldn’t be punished, but suspending their license has no connection to the crime and makes no sense.
I suppose supporters might argue that if someone uses a car as a place to molest a child, it’s a good idea to make sure they don’t have that opportunity again. Sure, that makes plenty of sense, but the state should do that by putting child molesters in jail. I mean, what kind of half-assed stunt is it to take away a child molester’s driver’s license?
Anyway, you can also lose your license if you have a gun in your car. Or if you vandalize someone else’s vehicle. Or if you use a vehicle to deliver alcohol to a minor.
If you don’t have your car tested for emissions when you’re supposed to, the license of everyone listed on the registration will be suspended. Isn’t that going to make it kind of hard to bring the car in for a test?
If I’m reading this stuff right, they will also take your license if you operate a garage or a parking lot and you discover an unclaimed vehicle but don’t report it to the police in a timely manner.
Note: I’ve probably got at least half of this wrong. I found all these rules by poking around in the Illinois Compiled Statutes. It’s a big mess. Not only do the traffic laws specify license suspensions, but the laws for the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office (which handles driver licensing) have a whole different set of reasons for suspension. I’m sure I found it confusing because I’m not a lawyer, but I’m told that even traffic lawyers and Secretary of State employees have trouble figuring out what it all means.