Unlicensed drivers must be made to pay the price
It's quite simple. A city cannot tolerate unlicensed drivers on its roads.
Ohio law treats driving under a suspended license as a serious violation, and the courts should -- no, they must -- enforce it as such.
A Vindicator story at the beginning of the week told of how city police arrested 10 drivers within an 11-hour span for driving without valid drivers licenses.
The violators were young and old, male and female, city and suburban. They were arrested after being involved in accidents, running red lights or driving with burned out headlights or taillights.
What they all had in common was a willingness to violate a state law that has been in effect for almost a century, the law that requires drivers to be licensed. This is not an unreasonable law. It assures everyone on the road, and pedestrians as well, that the person behind the wheel of an approaching vehicle has at least passed tests showing that he understand the rules of the road and can demonstrate the ability to maneuver a vehicle in traffic.
In more recent years, licensing has also required an increasingly important assurance that the driver has a minimum of insurance coverage.
Obviously, a driver who is unlicensed is uninsured. Often a driver is unlicensed for the simple reason that he or she refuses to meet the state's requirement to prove financial responsibility.
Just as lawful drivers have a right to expect that other motorists have passed drivers tests and have maintained a driving record that has not resulted in revocation of that license, it is reasonable for them to expect that all other drivers carry insurance.
Responsible drivers and their insurance companies should not have to bear the expense of accidents caused by uninsured drivers. Additionally, the only driver more likely to flee the scene of an accident than a drunken driver is an uninsured driver.
For all those reasons -- whether they be based on common sense, common courtesy or common decency -- Ohio law gives the state's municipal and county courts broad latitude in punishing unlicensed drivers. It even provides for punishing the owners of the vehicles being driven by the unlicensed drivers.
For a first offense, a driver faces a minimum of three days in jail or electronically monitored house arrest of 30 days to six months. Also, there is a fine of at least $250, or as much as $1,000.
The vehicle driven by the unlicensed driver is to be immobilized for 30 days, during which its license plates are to be impounded.
Subsequent convictions can bring jail sentences up to a year, fines up to $2,500 and permanent confiscation of the vehicle being driven.
Every unlicensed driver who dares to get behind the wheel of a car, every owner of a vehicle who allows an unlicensed driver behind the wheel, should be aware of the potential consequences.
And the best way of making all scofflaws aware of the risks is to sentence every violator to the maximum sentence and to make a point of publicizing the sentences. A newspaper photograph and television videotape showing perhaps a half dozen cars confiscated by the court over a short period of time would send as strong a message as any.
Would such enforcement create a hardship for some of the drivers and owners? Yes. But the law allows strict enforcement and the times demand it. Something is wrong in a city Youngstown's size when a dozen drivers caught up in accidents or traffic stops in less than a day are driving without licenses or insurance.