Lawmakers crackdown on suspended licenses

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Drivers who lose their licenses aren’t letting that keep them off the roads.

Assistant Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney said the problem is at epidemic levels nationwide.

“The problem for law enforcement is how to catch them. Unless they are stopped for another violation…they can drive for years undiscovered,” he said.

Currently, driving with a suspended license carries a maximum fine of $250 for the first offense and $500 for a second offense. Several members of the House Criminal Justice Committee have suggested the Legislature return to the days when a driver could end up in jail.

“If he’s going to just ignore what the court said, he should spend some jail time,” Kingston Rep. David Welch, who heads the committee, said.

At one time, driving with a suspended license could net jail time but that was changed because of the cost of providing poor defendants with a lawyer.

“Operating after suspension is a very serious offense,” said Whitefield Rep. John Tholl Jr. “Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t think it’s a big deal.”

He wants a tougher response for first or second time offenders.

According to the state Division of Motor Vehicles, 36,441 license were suspended in 2005 by the division’s own administrative action separate from a court decree. That’s about 3.5 percent of the state’s licenses drivers. Studies by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found approximately 20 percent of fatal crashes involved a driver without a valid license.

Tholl noted the Legislature did toughen penalties for drivers who violate a court imposed suspension for drunken driving. That carries a mandatory seven days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Habitual offenders also face potential felony charges if they drive with a suspended license.

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