Why can't we get more serious about habitual negligent drivers?

I was watching the news last night and they had a story about a Maryland Transportation Authority police officer who was killed in the line of duty yesterday. He had just returned to his car after issuing a citation to a motorist on the Route 50 approach to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. He was in his car, and presumably about to start it up and re-enter the traffic flow, when he was rear-ended by a pickup truck. He suffered “massive head injuries and internal trauma” in the crash, and died in hospital a few hours later.

What really pisses me off about this is that the person who caused the accident apparently has a history of driving infractions and should not even have been driving at the time of the crash. From the Washington Post:

I don’t have a zero-tolerance attitude to law enforcement. I believe that most people can be rehabilitated, and that rehabilitation is (or should be) as much a part of our criminal justice system as punishment.

But it seems to me that, with all the crimes we take so seriously, driving offences constitute one area where there is a perennial unwillingness to hold people responsible for their actions. We had a thread recently (can’t remember which one) where someone provided a link to a study showing that about 70-80% of drivers with suspended or revoked licenses continue to drive.

I just think we have to get serious about acknowledging that a license to control two tons of high-speed metal on public roads is a privilege, and that people who repeatedly show themselves to be a danger to ther road users do not deserve to have one. While the penalties for the initial instance/s of negligent driving may be sufficient (i really don’t know), i think the penalties for driving on a suspended or revoked license need to be strict enough to actually discourage the behavior.

I don’t know, maybe this will make no difference at all. I just get so frustrated knowing that people who are a menace to other road users, and who have already had their license suspended or revoked, continue to drive, and the only way they really get caught and punished is usually when some innocent motorist has paid with his or her life. It’s just too depressing.

I know it’s against the rules, but I’ve only one thing to add, and I still want to voice my opinion :

“Me too!!!”

Not that I don’t agree with you in part, but I think you’ll see the issue being what I quoted above. It’s arguable whether or not driving is a ‘privilege’. If, for example, I were to lose my ability/permission to drive, I would most likely lose my job as well. Taking away someone’s license can have serious repercussions on that person’s ability to thrive and survive. So, you have people without licenses continuing to drive, because the loss of that license has much more serious implications than the law or society is willing to deal with. Is it really responsible law that puts a man or woman on the street by removing his or her only way to get to work (again, I know this is not all cases, but certainly some)?

I’ll tell you honestly, if I was left with the decision to either a) not drive and lose my job or b) drive with a suspended license and hope I wouldn’t get caught, if that were my only means of getting to work, I’d absolutely chose option b.

Well, it seems to me that if the loss of driving privileges would be so catastrophic (job loss, homelessness, etc.), then it’s incumbent on the driver to behave in a way so as not to lose the privilege. It’s not like license suspension/revocation usually happens by surprise - as I understand it’s usually the result of a series of infractions or something so blatant that the driver had to know he/she was at risk.

IOW, IMO suspension should not happen for truly accidental reasons. But for blatant, purposeful and conscious violations - DWI, >40 MPH over the posted limit, etc. - it should be a reasonably expected consequence, and in such case truly the fault of the driver, and not LE.

Eonwe, my guess is you’re a responsible Doper, and wouldn’t put yourself in a position to be at risk of losing your license and so therefore never faced with the choice you outline above.

I understand the point you’re making, but let me turn your question around and put it back to you:

What else would you have the law do? After all, is it really responsible law that allows a person who has demonstrated a consistent pattern of dangerous driving behavior to continue to put the lives of other motorists at risk?

The guy driving that pickup truck might well have been using it to get to work, and he might have made the same sort of argument that you’ve made. But i wonder how much comfort that argument will be to him if he now gets put away for vehicular manslaughter (or whatever the charge might be). He’s certainly going to find it hard to get to work from a jail cell.

Well, you know, sometimes they revoke your license for other reasons. They threatened to suspend my license over a single unpaid parking ticket a few years ago. They did temporarily suspend my license a year or two later for the horrific crime of being epileptic. When I was a kid, they suspended my mother’s license for the same reason. Yes, she drove with a suspended license. She lived way out in the country, her husband was working out of town for weeks at a stretch, and she had to get to work. What else was she supposed to do? (Actually, in retrospect, I suppose we should have just lied about being epileptic. It would have saved us a whole lot of time, hassle, and money.)

wireless, you make a good point. Assuming something is truly the result of truly neglegent driving, then a person has a strong level of culpability for whatever happens as a result of that behavior. I don’t know that that has to translate into the loss of a license, though.

This sort of bleeds into mhendo’s question, ‘what would you have the law do?’

I guess I don’t really have a good answer for that. And, as you say, loss of a drivers lisence is probably preferable to jail time. I just would like to see a recognition that removal of a person’s driving rights/privileges can be a much more serious punishment than one might think. It feels negligent to me to have the government pass such a potentially life changing (and livelihood-threatening) judgment on people who have not necessarially committed any crime but negligent driving (which seems to have been the case with the person cited in the OP. He had not killed another driver or anything like that prior to this) without ensuring that ‘loss of license’ doesn’t also mean loss of job/house/whatever, which is a much stiffer punishment than ‘loss of license’ might seem on the surface.

Simple solution to that problem, isn’t there? I’m guessing that you paid the ticket once the threat was made?

Well, you can dress it up to paint yourself as a victim by pretending that your epilepsy was seen as a “horrible crime,” but the fact remains that it is within the bounds of reasonable behavior to restrict from driving someone whose condition might present a danger on the roads. I know a guy who committed the “horrible crime” of being blind. Should he be allowed to have a license?

I am no expert on epilepsy, and i’m sure that there is no “one size fits all” rule than can be applied to all epileptics. But the fact remains that:

The fact that all fifty states have specific requirements about the medical clearances required for licensing epileptic drivers suggests that such requirements might have a reasonable foundation. The rules make clear provisions for what an epileptic’s responsibilities are, and the steps that he or she needs to take in order to get a license.

Also, these rules are established not simply with the intention of inconveniencing epileptics, but also for their own protection. Personally, if i thought there was any likelihood that i might have a seizure while travelling at 60+ miles per hour, i don’t think i’d want to be behind the wheel of a car. You’re right that you could have lied about having epilepsy, but i assume you’re aware of what the consequences of that lie might have been if you had a seizure and caused an accident? Firstly, your car insurance would probably be reluctant to pay. Then, given that reporting your epilepsy was a condition of getting your license, you might also have been subject to criminal prosecution.

I don’t know your own case, and i don’t discount the possibility that the authorities were unreasonable in your particular instance. In situations like this, there’s always the chance that some bureaucrat will over-react. It is also possible that a more general ignorance about epilepsy (e.g., some people believe that all epileptics have uncontrollable seizures) has led to situations whereby states have made the licensing requirements for epileptics too draconian. But even if that does sometimes happen, i don’t think it negates the perfectly valid reasons for wanting to make sure that epileptics are seizure-free before granting them permission to drive on public roads.

Finally, however, your post doesn’t even address the point i made in the OP, which was specifically about people who have had their licenses suspended or revoked for habitual dangerous driving.

On preview, mhendo beat me to it. And he wrote a better post than what I was going to write.

My main problem with your characterization of this case is the implication that we should not take anyone’s license away until someone has been killed or seriously injured. But some people demonstrate a pattern of negligent driving over a long period of time before they actually end up in a tragic collision. Exactly how many times should we observe dangerous behavior before taking someone’s license away? Once? Three times? Ten times?

In your formulation, there seems to be no provision for prophylactic action to prevent the dangerous driver from causing accidents. There is only room for punitive action to punish the driver after some innocent person ends up dead or maimed.

Regarding epilepsy:

I should add that the Epilepsy Foundation “opposes across-the-board seizure-free requirements.” It does, however, recognize the need to ensure that epilepsy sufferers do not pose a danger to other road users, and as such supports “individualized evaluations of the ability to drive.”

This seems like a reasonable platform to me. I certainly agree that mandatory reporting by physicians to the state tends to discourage honesty in patients, and that the state should make it clear that it will be fair in evaluating each individual’s ability to drive, rather than setting a too-broad template that is inadequate for some cases and overkill for others.

Well, actually, the discussion had evolved into a discussion of reasons people drive on suspended licenses, and how licenses just aren’t suspended for reasons other than willfull endangerment of others. I was just pointing out to wireless various other reasons state can, and do, suspend the licenses of safe drivers. (In my mother’s case and in mine, it had been years since we’d had seizures. You’re trying to tell me there’s a reasonable safety concern in someone who’s been seizure-free for three years? I’d have to respectfully disagree with that, although I’m guessing from your snide victimhood comments that you don’t understand the concept of respectful disagreement terribly well.)

As for the OP, yes, it’s horrible that people who have been repeatedly careless and willfully endangered themselves and others continue to do so after having their licenses revoked. The crux of the matter is, though, that without stopping every single vehicle everywhere all the time, you simply can’t catch these people until they’ve gone and endangered people again. You can’t just look at a car that’s obeying all the traffic laws and know that the driver is unlicensed, you know. So unless they’re speeding, or weaving all over, or doing something else to draw attention, nobody’s going to catch them except at a traffic stop. Constant traffic stops just aren’t feasible, so what would you propose they do to catch unlicensed drivers before they hurt someone?

Give me a fucking break. You started it by playing the martyr rather than actually describing the circumstances surrounding your license suspension. If you had told me in your first post that you had been seizure-free for three years, i would have sympathized strongly with your predicament. My previous posts should have made this very clear to you, if you had bothered to read them properly. In case you missed it, i said:

I also said:

You ask: “You’re trying to tell me there’s a reasonable safety concern in someone who’s been seizure-free for three years?”

If you had read my posts and actually paid attention to what i said, you would know that i was not trying to tell you that at all. You imply that i was somehow impugning your own situation, but this was impossible given that you hadn’t even deigned to tell me what it was.

I honestly don’t know a reasonable method of catching people. I do believe, however, that someone who is caught for driving on a suspended or revoked license should be punished by something more than simply a further license suspension.

Wrong, wrong, wrong from the California State Department of Motor Vehicles

(caps & bolding from original)

Nowhere that I am aware of is driving considered a right. Speaking as a son who’s father has his driving privilege revoked by the state, I can tell you it not a “right”, it is a privilege.
If you lose your job because you lost your license, then guess what bucko, you fucked up big time. There are small mistakes in the world and there are large ones. Losing your license over an parking ticket would count as a large (dumb) mistake. The only way to make said mistake larger is to then get into an accident while driving on a suspended license.
Really it is simple. Don’t drive drunk, don’t drive in a reckless manner, keep insurance on the car, and if you get a ticket pay the damn thing. You will not lose your license. As far as the medical thing goes, sorry but there are some medical conditions that preclude a person from safely operating a car. Being blind would head that list. Epilepsy and other conditions that cause seizures may also be on that list. A medical condition is not a crime, but it can preclude the issuance of a license

I think repeat offenders should be put on vehicular arrest, like house arrest but for the vehicle. If the driver takes the vehicle somewhere other than home or work, it gets impounded. If the driver is caught driving someone else’s vehicle, it gets impounded. This would let the driver to continue working but if he or she deviates from that, it’s totally their fault. Need the vehicle to continue working? Too bad, you should have thought of that before going to the bar (or wherever).

First, as has been said, driving is a privelage. I was reminded of this all the time by my dad, who spent 20 of his 40 year career as a NYC PO, as a motorcycle cop.

Anyway, I just wanted to add that, in NY, anyway, you can get a special provision on your suspended license that allows you to drive to and from work ONLY. I know this because mine was suspended for not turning in my plates (I moved to OH for a bit and didn’t send them back) and I started the process for getting that provision.

Cool story on the whole “it’s a privilage” thing, my dad pulled a guy over and wrote him a ticket for speeding. The guy told my dad that the ticket wsa meaningless and he was just going to rip it up and speed anyway. My dad asked, for clarification, “you have no intention of obeying the traffic laws?”
Guy says “nope”
My dad points out that, under the law, a ticket is a “courtesy”, and since he had no intentions of abiding by that “courtesy” he was under arrest* and he would have his car towed. And for those of you interested, when it went to traffic court, the judge upheld it.

I’m going to have to ask him when he gets back from vacation if it was arrest, or just removal from the road and detention since he was not allowed to drive his own car.

Good. I don’t want shitty drivers endangering my life and that of others around me, and until they cease to be shitty drivers, I don’t want them on the road with me, no matter what they need to use the road for.

I think this is an interesting solution, and i would support it in principle. I guess the main problem would be one of money and logistics. How are we going to monitor these cars? I suppose each could have some sort of locator, and could be monitored from a central authority.

My wife is a native San Franciscan, and she said that one of the most noticeable changes wrought by the dot com boom of the '90s was an increase in really awful, selfish drivers in the city, and a commensurate decrease in respect among drivers for pedestrians and cyclists.

GPS. Maybe OnStar would be interested in branching out.

Just because it can be taken away doesn’t mean it isn’t a right. Voting and owning a gun are both rights, but they are both taken away from felons.