Push to toughen Ohio suspended-license laws

One state official calls the system ‘extremely broken.’

CINCINNATI (AP) — Some judges and prosecutors say it’s time to strengthen Ohio’s laws governing unlicensed drivers, especially as the number of people driving without a license grows.

Almost 12 percent of Ohio drivers are under suspension, or more than one in every 10 drivers, according to a review of state data by The Cincinnati Enquirer. That’s up 40 percent since 2000.

The percentage of suspended drivers in Ohio is higher than Kentucky, with 6 percent of drivers under suspension, and in Indiana, with 4 percent.

Advocates for change say the law needs to be strengthened to deal with repeat offenders but also streamlined to reduce an unwieldy number of suspensions.

“The system we have right now is extremely broken,” said Ohio House Rep. Shawn Webster, a Republican from Millville in southwest Ohio. “It needs to be overhauled.”

Fees, fines and court costs to reinstate a license can be astronomical, costing hundreds of dollars, Webster said.

Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Nadine Allen says her docket is clogged with license suspensions.

She says lawmakers should stop passing laws with a suspended license as a penalty. She says many suspensions aren’t related to dangerous driving behavior.

In Ohio, a person’s license can be suspended for dozens of reasons, including failing to pay child support or for a drug conviction.

Multiple suspensions are common because it is difficult to stop a person from driving without a license. Drivers with suspended licenses are also more likely to cause accidents, leading to higher insurance rates, according to Bob Scopatz, consultant with the Texas-based public safety company Data Nexis.

One way to reduce the number of suspensions is to do away with the two-year mandatory suspension for drivers caught driving without insurance, says Sheila Doll, supervisor of Hamilton County Municipal Court’s driver’s license intervention program.

“As soon as a person has insurance, they should be allowed to get back behind the wheel,” she said.

Another issue: While one common reason for having a suspended license is failure to have insurance, the state doesn’t require proof of insurance when people renew their plates.

Butler County Prosecutor Robin Piper says repeat offenders should face longer prison terms. He says too many unlicensed drivers defy judges’ orders and get behind the wheel of a car.

“I don’t like knee-jerk reactions, asking for new laws every time something happens,” Piper said. “But driving under suspension in my mind is different.”

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