Time to rein in unlicensed, uninsured driving in Ohio

Police, prosecutors and judges alike target driving without insurance or licenses as the most committed crimes in Youngstown. In fact Police Chief Rod Foley labels the scope of the offenses “an epidemic.”

As many as 45 percent of motor vehicle operators in the city drive without licenses or insurance, Timothy Cearfoss of Youngstown, an agent with American Family Insurance, estimates.

The problem, while magnified in economically-struggling Youngstown, also runs rampant throughout Ohio and has placed the Buckeye State among the top 10 in the nation in the number of uninsured motorists.

The devastating impact of unlicensed and uninsured drivers pose serious public-safety and financial consequences. As such, it demands renewed attention from state policymakers and legislators who are responsible for the rules that govern driving anywhere in Ohio.

Numbers tell part of the story. Ohioans were cited a record 1.13 million times last year for driving without insurance, a 2.5 percent increase over 2011, according to new state data. That’s 1 of every 8 drivers statewide and represents a troubling increase of 60 percent from a decade ago. Billions of dollars of property damage and personal and medical damages are being racked up every year by Ohio’s uninsured motorists, with the innocent victims and their insurance carriers left to pay the bills.

The full story

Numbers, however, don’t reveal the full story. For example, they cannot adequately illustrate the pain and suffering of victims. Nor can they testify to the tremendous strains they place on already overcrowded court dockets. Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth Kobly, for example, says she handles about 10 such cases daily, sometimes with offenders who have repeated the same crime 10 to 15 times.

To her credit, she established the Suspended License Intervention Program, in which participants are given a chance to obtain their driver’s licenses in return for dropping of charges. Over its 11 years, the program has registered some success.

But given the skyrocketing incidences of the crime, more can and must be done. Some have suggested a prepaid registration program — in which issuance of registration is contingent upon immediate proof of insurance. Others argue for stricter fines and longer jail times.

We don’t have the solution but would urge brainstorming and then action among those entrusted with crafting Ohio’s motor-vehicle rules. As long as officials fails to adequately address this highway epidemic, insurance costs will continue to zoom and the lives of millions will continue to be placed in harm’s way.

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