By Saul Segan, Attorney at Law
There are many pitfalls in holding a driver’s license that can cause untold grief and expense, but can be easily overlooked. Here are some tips for staying out of trouble.
Anytime you move, even out of state, or out of the country, notify the original state motor vehicle or transportation department that issued your license. To be on the safe side, notify every state where you ever held a valid license.
The reason for this is simple: sometimes outstanding tickets are forgotten, or sitting on the books because someone is using your name. Obviously if someone is doing this, it can cause untold trouble. You will never know what’s going on with these tickets if the court or Motor Vehicle Department doesn’t know where or how to find you.
If a ticket is issued, and you never get wind of the accusation or alleged violation, a court hearing may be scheduled, that again you will not know of, and your driving privilege may be suspended in that jurisdiction without your knowing – until, that is, you try to apply for or renew your license in your current state of residence. Even worse, a warrant can be issued for your arrest. This can also affect your ability to obtain car insurance – or rates can climb unless and until the mistake is remedied.
So what should you do to regain a license that has lapsed? It might be best to consult a lawyer who is skilled in this specific area. Calling the Department of Transportation in a case of suspension can often result in very bad advice from the governmental agency and instead of remedying the situation, well-meaning, repentant motorists can find themselves with deeper, more complex problems than they would have otherwise.
Example: A driver finds that his license has been suspended indefinitely for failing to pay old tickets. Desperate to clear his name, he rushes down to the courts that issued the tickets and pays them. What our driver doesn’t realize is that in many situations, by paying, he is pleading guilty on each of the tickets, and many of those citations carry a further suspension. Some states even add several years under a habitual offender provision.
But with the help of an attorney, motorists with out-of-state speeding or other moving violations may be able to downgrade the ticket in the jurisdiction where they were stopped and have no points issued in that venue. However, depending on which state issued their license, they may still receive points in their new state of residence. Many states have special provisions for the effects of an out-of-state traffic violation. The lawyer or the motorist himself must check with the home-state motor vehicle department. Even if no points accrue, the driver’s insurance company may have its own internal scoring system, and may assess an underwriting penalty in the amount of their premiums.
Another trap to avoid is failing to complete a payment plan for fines. Often the convicted motorist finds himself unable to meet that obligation. Defaulting on the payment plan can result in a license suspension in that state or even worse, an arrest warrant. If you set up a payment plan, try to adhere strictly to the plan, but if there is anticipated difficulty in doing so, let the court know both in writing and by phone as soon as possible. Sometimes, the court will make a new plan or allow a delay. Not calling is playing with fire.
Commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) can create special problems. Under more recently enacted Motor Vehicle Carrier legislation, what happens under your personal license can also affect your CDL record. Quite frequently, lesser offenses which bore little or no consequence are now considered “serious offenses” under CDL license laws. An accumulation of these offenses within a certain time span can result in the commercial driver’s disqualification for a sustained period, endangering an entire livelihood.
A couple more tips:
Many people sell vehicles and forget to return the tags to Motor Vehicles. The plate may be affixed to a vehicle involved in a traffic accident or a criminal offense, and the registered driver finds himself with a lot of explaining to do. Make sure there is a transfer of title and surrender of tags whenever a vehicle transaction takes place.
Another dangerous practice is failure to report an accident. If there is personal injury in an unreported accident, suspension or even jail time may result. If you think you hit something, you should investigate. If the neighborhood is unsafe, call the police right away or go to the local police station and advise them.
These are just a few of the dangers to a driver’s license, and they really have to be guarded against. Minor inconveniences necessary to adhere to each procedure are small prices to pay as opposed to the catastrophic consequences that can befall the unwary motorist.
I absolutely don’t want that to happen to you or your loved ones. Stay safe.