By Briana Vannozzi
“If they’re in jail then they can’t get behind the wheel of a car,” said Karen Bolmer, owner of KBee’s Driving School.
That’s one take on the alarming data — first reported by NJ Advance Media — showing 10 percent of all fatal car accidents between 2010 and 2013 involved a driver without a valid license.
According to the statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during that four-year span there were 2,177 fatal accidents in New Jersey causing 2,314 deaths. Out of the drivers involved, 231 didn’t have a valid license and 63 of those drivers never had one at all.
“I knew there was a problem because I’ve dealt with it in court and seen it happen over and over and over over the years,” said Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin.
The problem, says McGuckin, who is also a municipal prosecutor, is in New Jersey there’s not much you can do to stop a driver from getting behind the wheel, whether they’re in good standing or not.
“We need to make it more expensive, more costly and the penalties need to be commensurate with the risk they’re doing to the public,” McGuckin said.
According to New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission, the penalty for driving with a suspended license — not including an accident or causing personal harm — is $250 for three consecutive years. But a driver who’s caught and never had a license, pays just $100 each of those three years.
“People who have never had a license come in, they know the law just as well as I do and they know darn well the most they’re gonna pay is $200, so they plead guilty and they walk out the door,” McGuckin said.
So McGuckin and his Senate counterparts proposed legislation that would make penalties equal for licensed and unlicensed drivers.
“If you have a license and it’s revoked and you get in an accident and injure somebody, personal injuries, you can face very serious fines and up to six months in jail. But if you’ve never had a license that’s not the case. You pay a $200 fine and you walk out and get back in your car and keep driving, so we think that’s a quirk in the law, a hole in the law and we’re trying to fix it,” he said.
Here’s the rule in New Jersey — pay your court fees, your tickets and your suspension fines and you’re eligible to have your license restored. Motor Vehicle has no jurisdiction over permanently revoking a driver’s license.
“Only a Superior Court judge can do that,” McGuckin said. “But usually that’s involving a fatalities of second-degree crime, drunk driving involved with a fatality and people go to prison anyway.”
From January to March of 2015, Motor Vehicle says it’s issued nearly 185,000 suspensions in the state. And roughly 792,000 during 2014. But the agency notes that doesn’t mean that number of motorists are without a valid license. A single driver can have multiple suspensions.
McGuckin also created a provision in his bill to hold car owners accountable for allowing someone without a license to drive their car in the hopes it will start to crack down on these numbers because he says one is one too many.