Strange reasons states may snatch your driver's license

By Susan Ladika Posted : 07/18/2011

Driver's licenseEverybody knows you can lose your driver's license for racking up too many speeding tickets, getting a DUI or driving without car insurance. But in some states, you can also have your driving privileges suspended for:

  • Being a deadbeat dad
  • Skipping school
  • Ignoring your parking tickets
  • Littering

While those behaviors – and countless others – have little or nothing to do with how you drive, governments have passed such measures to get motorists to comply with state and federal laws.

"Some of [the reasons] are just crazy," says Sheila Prior, regional director of member support for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), which represents state officials who administer and enforce motor vehicle laws.

Depending on which state you live in, you can get your license yanked for everything from stealing fuel (in 14 states) to advocating the overthrow of the government (in New York and Pennsylvania), according to a 2009 study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

If you reside in Montana, you'd better pay your student loan; in Nevada, don't get caught spraying graffiti. Both could cost you your driver's license.

Growing trend

The strategy of pulling driver's licenses to punish non-driving offenses gained traction after states such as Illinois, Maine and Vermont used the tactic to push deadbeat parents into making child support payments in the 1990s.

As child support collections rose in the wake of such punishments, states jumped on the bandwagon and applied the concept more broadly, Prior says.

The NHTSA study looked at almost 80,000 drivers whose licenses had been pulled and found that between 2002 and 2005, the percentage of licenses suspended due to non-driving reasons jumped from 27 percent to 36 percent.

The latest trend is to deny licenses if a student drops out or misses an excessive amount of school. Arkansas even requires students to maintain a C average if they want a permit or license.

In South Carolina, Rep. Tom Young introduced a bill to prohibit anyone under age 18 from having a driver's license if they aren't enrolled in, or haven't already completed, high school. On his website, Young says the measure isn't a "silver bullet," but would help combat the state's dropout rate. While the bill squeaked through the state House, the Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

Critics call approach 'self-defeating'

The logic of suspending driver's licenses for non-moving violations is lost on some.

"There's really only one legitimate purpose for a driver's license – to certify you can operate a vehicle safely and responsibly," says Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association.

Suspending a driver's license for something like failing to pay child support makes it more difficult for the person to get to work and generate the income necessary to make payments, Biller says.

"It seems to me it's self-defeating," he says.

Margy Waller, executive director of the think tank The Mobility Agenda, says laws linking child support payments to driver's licenses have an unfair impact on those in low-wage jobs or who are unemployed and can't catch up on support payments.

"A driver's license is almost necessary in this society, with very few exceptions," she says.

Waller says jurisdictions need to "weigh benefits and costs" of pulling a driver's license for a non-driving violation.

Prior says AAMVA already is working on suggesting alternative methods for getting drivers to comply with laws. She expects the proposals to be completed in late 2012 or 2013.

Changing such laws would take the burden off departments of motor vehicles, she says. DMVs receive information from schools or other agencies that a motorist's license must be suspended, then notify the motorist that his or her license has been suspended until the driver complies with the law.

Suspended license and car insurance rates

Having your license suspended also can impact your auto insurance rates. Once your license is suspended, your insurer is likely to cancel your car insurance policy. Later on, when you shop for insurance after your license is reinstated, the cancellation on your record likely will disqualify for you from the best rates.

If your license is suspended for any reason, you'll have to prove you have proper auto insurance before you can get your license back. Lynne McChristian, Florida spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, says it's likely you'll need an SR-22 form, which proves that you have the necessary car insurance coverage. If you don't maintain the SR-22 for the specified period of time, your license can be suspended again.

To ease the burden all the way around, Prior says the AAMVA would like jurisdictions to revise their laws, which are costly to enforce and "have nothing to do with highway safety."

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