Wichita Kansas officials say it’s a maddening when someone who has no driver’s license is involved in a fatal crash, but they’re not sure how to fix the problem.
The Kansas Department of Transportation says that for the past decade, roughly 10 percent of all fatal accidents in the state each year involves an unlicensed driver.
In 2008, the latest year for complete data, 40 of the state’s 385 traffic deaths involved a driver without a license. That same year, 1,482 people suffered injuries in such accidents, The Wichita Eagle reported Sunday.
State Sen. Les Donovan, a Wichita Republican, said fatal crashes involving unlicensed drivers are an outrage, but there’s not a lot that can be done to prevent them.
“We’re always working on a fix,” Donovan said. “It’s more than vexing. If there’s a fix out there that would work, we would know about it.”
Phil Journey, a former state senator who now is a Sedgwick County District Court judge, said the immediate reaction many people have to the problem of unlicensed drivers is to call for impounding more vehicles, raising fines and putting more people in jail.
But those aren’t really workable solutions, both Journey and Donovan told the newspaper.
The current maximum penalty for driving without a license is six months in a county jail and a $1,000 fine, but Journey said the typical penalty is five days in jail and a $200 fine.
“We do not have enough jails” to house all the violators, Donovan said. “And we’re not going to build enough jails because the cost” is unacceptable to taxpayers.
“Maybe that sounds a little crass and uncaring, but it’s not.”
He said it may sound reasonable to raise fines, “but they won’t pay. They don’t have the money. They’re not paying the fines that are in place today.”
He said they wouldn’t pay the higher fines, either.
“How can you punish someone who has nothing to take away?” Donovan said.
And as for impounding vehicles, Journey said courts have some ability to do that as a result of drunken-driving convictions, but not for license violations.
Besides, other issues would arise if the state started taking people’s cars away.
“We don’t have any place to put the cars ... and the procedure is very cumbersome to order the impoundment ... and order a tow truck to pick up the vehicle. I have ordered impoundment in the past, but it’s difficult to enforce.
“If all the courts in Sedgwick County impounded all the DUI cars, I think we’d fill up the parking lot of the Kansas Coliseum pretty quickly.”
Donovan also said that if a violator’s vehicle is taken away, innocent family members can be deprived of transportation.
Journey said state budget restraints also are contributing to people not having licenses. The Kansas Department of Transportation’s phone number people can call to see if their license is suspended, and how to get it reinstated, gets answered only three days a week because of budget cuts.
Often drivers who get into trouble compound their problems by not paying fines, meeting court dates or updating their addresses, said Carmen Alldritt, director of vehicles for the Department of Revenue.
“Traffic tickets don’t go away,” she said. “Just take care of it from the beginning.”