Keeping bad drivers off the roads

You don’t have to follow the news very closely to hear frequent stories about people who continue to drive — and have or cause wrecks — long after their driver’s licenses have been taken away.

So how do you keep bad drivers off the street, when losing the privilege to drive seems meaningless? That’s something I’ve been struggling with lately, when I came across this column by Hector Tobar in yesterday’s Times.

As Tobar tells the story, a woman drove to a dental appointment, then called her boyfriend to come get her when the effects of sedation kept her from driving home.

Only problem was, she didn’t know that his license had been suspended. So he had a cousin drive her home, then attempted to drive her car home so it wouldn’t be towed from the parking garage where she had left it. But only made it a few blocks before the police stopped him.

Allowing someone with a suspended license to drive her car meant it could be impounded for 30 days under the Safe Streets Act, and eventually cost her nearly $1400 to get it back. She was lucky, though. A second offense would have allowed her car to be seized and sold by the state.

To Tobar, that seemed unduly harsh.

As he pointed out, the original offense was just running a stop sign; something countless L.A. drivers — and yes, cyclists — do on a daily basis. He argues that she should have been shown leniency because of her limited finances and that fact that it wasn’t her intent to put an unlicensed driver behind the wheel. And suggest that maybe the law should be changed, so it doesn’t apply to people convicted of relatively minor offenses.

He has a point.

On the other hand, let’s say the police hadn’t stopped her boyfriend. Maybe he would have made it back home with no problem. Or just maybe, he would have run another stop sign on the way home. And this time, killed someone.

Would we still be discussing whether the law is too harsh? Or would we want to know why someone with a suspended license was still on the streets?

Only a few weeks after her boyfriend was stopped by police, another driver was on the streets north of Los Angeles — despite having his license suspended for two previous DUI convictions. And despite the fact that he was underage, he was already drunk at 10:30 in the morning.

Somehow, the Safe Streets Act failed in this case.

Maybe his license hadn’t been suspended at the time of his previous arrests. Maybe he just fell through the cracks, or maybe the truck wasn’t even his. But somehow, he was still had access to a vehicle that morning.

As a result, a popular cyclist is dead, leaving his wife to somehow find a way to go on without him, and his friends and family confront a hole in their lives that can never be filled. And let’s not forget the other 4 riders injured in the same incident, two of them seriously.

My heart goes out the woman Tobar wrote about. She was an unfortunate victim of circumstances, and of a well-meaning boyfriend who hadn’t honest with her, and tried to do the right thing in entirely the wrong way.

According to Tobar, California’s Safe Streets Act is one of the strictest in the nation when it comes to unlicensed drivers. And maybe she deserved leniency that she didn’t get.

But as long as drivers continue to drive long after their licenses have been suspended, there is no enforcement. And without enforcement, the traffic laws meant to keep us all safe are meaningless.

And innocent people can die.

So compassion, yes. Leniency, maybe. But weaken the law?

Hell no.

If anything, it should be expanded to include all drunk drivers, whether or not they’ve been stopped for driving without a license. As well as other dangerous drivers, including those aggressive, high-speed drivers who weave in and out of traffic, often causing more accidents than they have themselves.

Because drunks aren’t the only dangerous drivers on the road.


Culver City wants your input on their Bicycle and Pedestrian Initiative. Cynergy offers a free lecture on Nutrition, Hydration & Recovery Techniques tonight. Streetsblog examines Metro’s dedicated bike space, and questions how much cyclists really slow down drivers. Metblogs suggests exploring the San Gabriel River Bike Trail while there’s actually water flowing through the riverbed. As part of their continued efforts to Amsterdam L.A., Flying Pigeon presents the Royal Gazelle. Riverside commuters are reducing their wheels from four to two. A Missouri rider discovers Alpacas on his evening ride. A long-time Colorado rider is killed after “straying” into traffic. In another hit-and-run north of the border, five Ottawa cyclists were run down despite riding single file in a bike lane; there was nothing the riders could have done to avoid it. A Detroit writer analyzes the official crash analysis, and find that both cycling and pedestrian deaths were under reported. Finally, a cyclist from Down Under documents his daily commute; clearly, they have as much trouble keeping cars out of the bike lanes as we do.


  1. Brent says:

    Some ten or twelve years ago I was struck on Olympic Boulevard, in Beverly Hills during rush hour, by an uninsured, unlicensed driver. My car was badly damaged and rendered inoperable.

    I called 911 because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. The dispatcher refused to send the police to the accident — neither of us had physical injury — but did eventually send a traffic official to make sure the we could clear the road safely.

    Somehow I expected the other driver to be led away in handcuffs. Eventually, however, he just drove away, never to be seen again. My insurance company covered the repair costs, and didn’t even follow up on the contact information I had taken pains to collect.

    So much for licensing laws.

  2. Erik says:

    The fundamental problem w/ this law is that the only intervention to keep people from driving is to take their license. Obviously that is not enough of a barrier. At the very least a person’s associations should be informed by the courts that a person has lost their license. But I would recommend taking a persons’ car along w/ their license.

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