Drivers license dilemmas today and a generation ago
How times change.
Just 25 years ago, almost to the day, the state of Ohio established offices in Youngstown and four other cities to track down drivers who had amassed 12 points on their licenses through multiple traffic violations.
The problem back then was that the state found it difficult to confiscate the licenses of drivers when they reached the 12-point limit.
The procedure was to send registered letters to miscreants demanding that they surrender their licenses. But in almost half the cases, the letters were either ignored or returned as undeliverable. Ohio had hundreds of motorists on the road carrying licenses that they weren't entitled to have.
Nowadays, it isn't nearly as important for the state to confiscate a driver's little plastic card because any officer making a traffic stop or investigating an accident has instantaneous access to the state's computerized records. If a driver isn't supposed to be behind the wheel, the patrolman or trooper will know it within minutes.
Youngstown Municipal Court has been facing a different problem. The state has gotten very good, indeed, at canceling drivers licenses. But some drivers don't seem to be very good at getting their licenses back, even when they're entitled to.
Public enemy No. 1
Municipal Court judge Elizabeth Kobly has described driving under suspension as the city's No. 1 traffic crime. And in at least some cases, it is a totally avoidable crime, if the driver would only follow through and get his or her license reissued.
To that end, the court is implementing SLIP, the Suspended License Intervention Program.
According to a story in Saturday's Vindicator, those charged with driving under suspension, without a license or on an expired license will be screened by the probation department. A probation officer will help eligible drivers regain driving privileges, guiding the defendant through the red tape and making sure they comply with all BMV requirements.
If they successfully get their licenses reinstated, the court will drop the latest charge. Otherwise, they'll be brought back to court for sentencing.
This may sound like coddling, and perhaps it is. It is the responsibility of every driver to have a valid drivers license and to be driving an insured vehicle.
On the other hand, if coddling is what it takes to protect the rest of the driving public, so be it. The last thing licensed motorists need is to be sharing the road with legions of the unlicensed and uninsured.
It's appropriate for the court to give reasonable assistance to motorists who have run into bureaucratic problems in regaining their driving privileges. And it is equally appropriate for the court to throw the book at scofflaws who get behind the wheel when they are not entitled to do so.