It is time for Ohio to join the majority of the nation and end a 25-year-old tradition of temporarily suspending a driver’s license for drug offenses that don’t involve a vehicle. Time has shown the practice doesn’t work. Even worse, it causes far more harm than good.
Thirty-four states have already abandoned this policy, which was first implemented at the federal level in the 1990s. Ohio’s Senate Bill 204 and House Bill 307 would allow our state to follow suit.
Both the SB and HB would provide judges with the discretion to impose license suspensions if, and only if, it’s a suitable punishment. In other words, it does not prohibit the suspension of a license. The six-month mandatory suspension simply would be eliminated. Members of the Athens County Reentry Task Force think this bill is a step in the right direction and hope to see it through to passage.
There is no doubt that unsafe drivers should be prohibited from driving until they are willing to abide by traffic safety laws. Suspending a license, in those instances, could be an appropriate punishment. But research has found that imposing a license suspension as a penalty for non-driving-related offenses “is ineffective,” as stated by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. The policy simply has not deterred the undesired behavior.
Lack of reliable transportation is the No. 1 barrier to employment. This is especially true for those in rural areas where public transportation is limited. Here in Athens County, for example, we have a robust public transit system, but it still does not reach all corners of the county. This means driving is an essential part of modern survival. Without driving privileges, many lose their jobs and struggle to find new ones. Every aspect of their lives is ultimately affected.
A study of a similar program in New Jersey found that 42% of drivers whose license were suspended lost their jobs, according to American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Of those, 45% did not find new employment. Of those that did find another job, 88% reported a decrease in income.
For the sake of their livelihood, many drive illegally, which leaves them vulnerable to other penalties. What we currently have in place is not good public policy. We have set these people up for failure. It’s easy to see how and why a family may fall into poverty and ultimately re-offend.
Let’s move on from this ineffective approach. Instead, let us embrace a policy that protects an individual’s ability to remain self-sufficient.
Athens County Reentry Task Force
About the Athens County Reentry Task Force
Formed in 2009, the Athens County Reentry Task Force is made up of community partners who work together to help ex-offenders transition back into society and become independent. The Task Force recognizes the need for a coordinated approach geared toward building and supporting a range of collaborative community programs to address the barriers to self-sufficiency in an effort to reduce crime, recidivism and improve public safety.