In recent months, more attention has been paid to the fact that drivers with suspended licenses in New York State are still getting behind the wheel – and killing people. Transportation Alternatives led a rally in December to bring light to the fact that ten percent of all crashes in New York are caused by unlicensed drivers, and 75 percent of unlicensed drivers still get behind the wheel.
Suspended licenses are nothing to scoff at. Often, these drivers were suspended for reckless, dangerous, drunken driving. They are a menace to not only pedestrians like the man killed on a Midtown sidewalk in December, but also to other drivers on the road. Licenses are suspended for a reason: these people should not be behind the wheel of a vehicle.
But in Albany, not everyone sees it that way, apparently. On Tuesday, the New York State Senate Transportation Committee passed – by a 10-6 vote – S3627, a bill that would add additional immediate “hardship privileges” to people whose licenses are suspended because they are in “legal limbo.” Essentially, the current law establishes that a driver who is charged with drunk driving by the results of a blood, breath, urine, or saliva test shall have their license suspended on or before their first court appearance. This law covers the period between their first court appearance and their conviction. They may be in limbo, but their test results are proof positive that they were driving drunk. Shockingly, these drunk drivers are already allowed to request a court waiver to drive under certain conditions:
For the purposes of this clause, “extreme hardship” shall mean the inability to obtain alternative means of travel to or from the licensee’s employment, or to or from necessary medical treatment for the licensee or a member of the licensee’s household, or if the licensee is a matriculating student enrolled in an accredited school, college or university travel to or from such licensee’s school, college or university if such travel is necessary for the completion of the educational degree or certificate.
The new bill would add an additional provision:
OR NECESSARY OPERATION OF A VEHICLE DURING THE COURSE OF THE LICENSEE’S EMPLOYMENT
The bill was introduced by Assemblyman David Gantt, chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, and known foe of the texting-while-driving ban and red light cameras. The bill passed entirely along party lines, with six Republicans voting against the bill, and ten Democrats – including seven from within the New York City limits – voting in favor.
New York State Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau cited the cases of People v. Correa and People v. Henderson as why the law should be amended to include employment-related driving:
In Correa, the defendant was a New York City firefighter who was required to maintain a valid driver’s license for his employment, even though he did not drive any emergency vehicles during the work day. In Henderson, the defendant’s employment duties required him to drive to and from various job sites on a daily basis. In both cases, the respective courts held that the statute did not authorize the court to grant a limited license for the defendant to drive while at work even though holding a valid license was necessary for their employment.
Interestingly, in the Correa case, he was ultimately found guilty, and the key reason his hardship request was denied was because he lived in New York City and could have used public transit to travel to and from his employer. This makes the votes of seven New York City legislators in favor of this bill even more baffling.
What the supporters of this seemingly small change to a state statute fail to recognize is that the loss of a job is a deterrant to drunk driving. Public service announcements regularly cite the potential loss of your license and your job as consequences of driving drunk. This new law would prove both of those untrue. These people broke the law, put other’s lives in danger, and should be forced to suffer the consequences.