The Unfair Roadblock: While states have a legitimate interest in keeping individuals who are unfit to drive off the roads, many states have passed laws suspending or revoking the drivers’ licenses of people convicted of drug offenses, even when these offenses are unrelated to their ability to drive. Many states also provide no opportunity for these drivers to obtain restrictive licenses so that they can get to work, school or treatment. Taking away drivers’ licenses for an offense that is not related to the ability to drive and providing no opportunity to obtain restricted drivers’ licenses is harmful to the individuals, their family and communities by making it impossible for many of them to earn a living, go to school or receive health care, including drug or alcohol treatment.
How to Remove the Roadblock: States should limit revocation or suspension of drivers’ licenses to driving-related drug offenses, such as driving under the influence of a controlled substance. States also should offer restricted licenses when appropriate so individuals whose licenses were suspended or revoked can work, go to school, and obtain health care.
tool kit provides materials advocates can use to seek reform of these
THE PROBLEM - WHAT NEEDS TO BE CHANGED
The suspension or revocation of drivers’ licenses is a significant but often overlooked barrier to economic advancement for people with criminal records who have paid their debt to society and want to become productive, tax-paying citizens. While there is a clear societal interest in keeping those who are unfit to drive off the roads, broadly restricting licenses for convictions unrelated to an individual’s ability to drive safely is an unfair penalty that does society more harm than good. Prohibiting people convicted of a non-driving-related drug offense from driving makes it harder for them to look for and keep jobs, participate in addiction treatment or healthcare, and get education or job training. Especially in suburban and rural areas that lack extensive public transportation, a valid driver's license can be crucial to an individual’s ability to successfully reenter society.
In 1992, Congress amended the Federal Highway Apportionment Act to withhold a portion of federal highway funds from any state that failed to adopt a license suspension/revocation law for people convicted of drug offenses. This law loosely defines “drug offense” as any criminal offense involving the possession, distribution, manufacture, cultivation, sale, transfer, or the attempt or conspiracy to possess, distribute, manufacture, cultivate, sell, or transfer any substance (prohibited by the Controlled Substances Act), or the operation of a motor vehicle under the influence of such a substance. The federal law requires a suspension or revocation of at least six months.
However, a governor can submit written certification to the Secretary of the Department of Transportation that she or he opposes the revocation/suspension and that the state legislature has adopted a resolution expressing opposition to this law. States also can limit the revocation or suspension to driving-relating drug offenses, such as driving under the influence of a controlled substance, or to other more limited categories of offenses, and still qualify for full federal funding. And States can offer restricted licenses that allow people with revoked or suspended licenses to drive for such purposes as employment, education, or obtaining alcohol or drug treatment or other health care.
Limiting the suspension or revocation of licenses to offenses related to an individual’s ability to drive safely for a six-month period and issuing restricted licenses would achieve many important benefits:
A detailed description of every state’s laws regarding revocation or suspension of drivers’ licenses because of drug convictions can be found in the Legal Action Center’s report, After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry at http://www.lac.org/lac/main.php?view=law&subaction=3 The following is a summary of our findings:
Type of drug offenses that result in license revocation/suspension
Length of revocation/suspension
Availability of restricted licenses
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If your state goes beyond the minimum requirements of the federal law and suspends or revokes drivers’ licenses for drug offenses unrelated to the ability to drive, or for more than six months, or does not provide restricted licenses, you can advocate for one or more of the following reforms:
This will ensure that states can amend their laws without penalty.
In twenty-three states, revocation or suspension of a driver's license is only triggered by conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or drug-related offenses while in physical control of a motor vehicle. The other states should enact similar laws.
Limited driving privileges for those whose licenses are suspended or revoked should be available for purposes of employment, education, medical care, and attendance at alcohol or drug treatment programs. Some states, like Missouri, also provide for the opportunity for restricted licenses for any other circumstance the court finds may create an undue hardship. In other states, restricted licenses are tied to mandatory participation in an alcohol or drug information or treatment program or left to the discretion of the department of motor vehicles.
States can use the law in Maryland as a model for limiting drug convictions that trigger revocation or suspension of drivers’ licenses to offenses related to driving and also for offering restricted licenses:
States can use the law in Missouri to provide restricted licenses that are available for a wider array of purposes:
your state is considering legislation to reform laws that suspend or revoke
drivers’ licenses for people convicted of drug offenses, alerting
grass roots allies and supporters and asking them to contact their legislators
to support the legislation is an effective way to bring about change.
here for a model Action Alert you can shape for your specific
needs and use to seek grass roots support.