Deadly Drivers - One Fatal Crash In Five Involves An Unlicensed Driver

One Fatal Crash In Five Involves An Unlicensed Driver

Drivers with invalid licenses were far more likely to have been driving drunk and to have had multiple suspensions or revocations in the three years before the crash.

Drivers who do not have valid licenses are involved in 20 percent of fatal crashes, a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows. "One fatal crash in five involves a driver who is not properly licensed," says David Willis, President of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "These scofflaws pose a serious threat to law-abiding motorists."

The study was performed by Dr. Lindsay Griffin of the Texas Transportation Institute, who used crash data from the Department of Transportation�s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. "Drivers operating on invalid licenses at the time of their fatal crashes are different from the rest of us," Dr. Griffin says. "Not only were their licenses invalid, but 28 percent of them had received three or more license suspensions or revocations in the three years before their crashes. These are not just ordinary people who forgot to renew."

Dr. Griffin examined five years of fatal crash data, identifying each driver�s license status. Drivers with invalid licenses were far more likely to have been driving drunk and to have had multiple suspensions or revocations in the three years before the crash. In addition, the incidence of improper licensing varied widely by state. Maine had the lowest incidence, with 6.9 percent.

The state with the highest proportion of invalidly licensed drivers was New Mexico, where 23.9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were either unlicensed, operating on an invalid license, or of unknown license status. .... Other high-risk jurisdictions included the District of Columbia, Arizona, California, and Hawaii. An earlier study by Streff and Eby found that 30 to 70 percent of drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked may continue to drive, Griffin said.

What can be done to combat this scourge? "Unlicensed drivers need to be prevented from driving," says Willis. Vehicle immobilization or impoundment for drivers who have had their licenses taken away could be one effective approach, the study suggests. Another promising high-tech solution is an electronic "smart-card" driver�s license. This credit card-like device contains a computer chip, without which a car can�t be started. If the license is taken away by the licensing agency, the violator would be prevented from driving.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit charitable organization funded by donations from AAA and CAA clubs and members. Its safety education programs include teen driver education; antilock brake (ABS) safety; drowsy driving; aggressive driving and road rage; and older driver safety. Located in Washington, D.C., the Foundation has been devoted to preventing crashes and saving lives through research and education since 1947. Visit the Foundation's web page at http://www.aaafts.org/ for more information about its activities.

Deadly Drivers

One in every 5 fatal traffic accidents involves a driver with a suspended, revoked or otherwise invalid license.

When judges suspend or revoke a driver's license, it's meant to be strong punishment for the driver and serious protection for others on the road. Too bad so many people just keep driving. A startling number drive themselves or others to an early death.

According to a report Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, one in every 5 fatal traffic accidents involves a driver with a suspended, revoked or otherwise invalid license -- crashes that killed more than 42,000 people between 1993 and 1997. Half of those illegal drivers also were under the influence of alcohol, AAA found.

Evidence that dangerous drivers neither respect the law nor fear it is overwhelming. Many of the drivers AAA tracked had tallied up three license suspensions in the three years before their fatal accidents.

States are well aware of the problem.

Last year, Maryland authorities summoned dozens of motorists with suspended or revoked licenses to the Howard County courthouse to check in with monitors. More than a third, 28 motorists, were arrested on the spot: They'd driven themselves to court.

Maryland's sting confirmed findings from earlier studies showing that as many as 70% of motorists ignore suspensions and revocations and continue to drive.

So how can the most dangerous drivers be driven off the road? By separating scofflaws from their vehicles when their licenses are suspended, traffic-safety experts suggest. And by ensuring that scofflaws who kill others face strong punishment, including jail time.

A few states are moving toward tougher penalties, according to National Transportation Safety Board and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

  • In Minnesota, police are confiscating the license plates of drivers after repeated drunken-driving convictions.
  • In California, police are impounding the vehicles of unlicensed drivers or those with revoked licenses.
  • In Ohio, police are immobilizing such vehicles.

More states have laws that are just as tough. Too often, though, they're reserved for multiple offenders, or judges are reluctant to use them, fearful of punishing innocent family members by taking away a family's car.

But failing to do so leaves other innocents at risk from the accidents caused by unlawful drivers.

Yes, they will drive without a license. Perhaps they won't drive without a car.

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