Change in law could restore suspended drivers’ privileges

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A change in state law could help drivers with suspended licenses get back on the road.

The law, which takes effect January 1, 2015, would give judges discretion to grant special driving privileges to those with suspended licenses. Currently, there are more than 420,000 Indiana drivers whose privileges have been suspended, according to the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Experts contend the new law will ease the pressure on an already over-burdened court system and allow drivers who commit certain offenses to retain, or regain, their driving privileges for a minimum of six months.

“We have lots of folks suspended and they can’t get reinstated often times. Judges will have the authority in the future to give specialized driving privileges where they did not have that authority before,” David Powell with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council told I-Team 8.

The bill’s author, Rep. Jud McMillan, told I-Team 8 that the bill was designed to help “the punishment fit the crime.” For example, under current state law, McMillan points out that a person who fails to pay child support can have his or her driver’s license suspended. In doing so, it may prevent that person from going to work and earning a paycheck, McMillan said. Under the new law, the judge can allow a driver to have special driving privileges.

However, there are some caveats.

“The judge may include an ignition interlock system on an individual’s car and may also place restrictions on the time a driver is allowed to drive and where they are allowed to drive,” said Josh Gillespie, a spokesman for the BMV.

Gillespie says while some provisions of House Bill 1279 will take effect July 1, this provision won’t begin until January to allow time for all parties to coordinate.

“The BMV is working on its system, as well as prosecutors and judges, to make sure the roll out is seamless,” Gillespie said.

Gillespie points out that there are additional conditions that make some drivers ineligible. Among those provided by the BMV to I-Team 8 include:

Drivers INELIGIBLE for specialized driving permit:

1. A driver who has never held a valid Indiana driver’s license

2. CDL license holders

3. A person who has refused a chemical test

4. A person convicted of an offense involving a motor vehicle that resulted in the death of another person

For eligible drivers convicted of a traffic offense that results in a suspension of driving privileges, a court MAY stay the suspension and grant specialized driving privileges.

Conditions of specialized driving privileges:

1. MUST be granted for at least 180 days

2. MAY include requiring an ignition interlock device

3. MAY include restrictions based on time of day or between certain locations (ie home to work)

 The court has discretion to mandate any other conditions of the specialized driving privileges.

Drivers will also have the ability to petition the court in the county where they reside for specialized driving privileges for suspensions imposed by the BMV.

Driver reaction

Joshua Humphrey and his wife, Michelle, were among the dozen or so folks in line at one Indianapolis BMV location on Madison Avenue on Friday. Michelle was there to renew the plates on the family’s vehicle. Josh was simply a passenger in the car. His license is currently suspended, he said.

“I think it’s good. People work, they have jobs. I have a job. I have stuff to do. I have a wife and family so the need to get back and forth is important,” Humphrey said about the new law.

“I feel for people because I’ve been there. I understand having to get there and people needing to get back and forth to work,” Humphrey said. “As long as there is some flexibility there and (courts are) willing to kind of give people a break and deal with it in a better way, as long as system works I think that’s a good thing.”

The new law will also require drivers granted special driving privileges to maintain and possess a copy of the judge’s order.

Phone messages left with several Marion County judges were not returned Friday.

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