VT Police seek stiffer penalties for driving without a license

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(Host) The Vermont State Police came to the Statehouse on Friday to seek increased penalties for people who have multiple convictions for driving without a license.

Police say a driver involved in a fatal accident on Interstate 89 this week had 14 D-L-S convictions.

They say more accidents could occur unless the Legislature takes some action.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has more.

(Kinzel) In an effort to reduce the number of people on probation, the Legislature several years ago voted to decriminalize a number of traffic violations including driving without a license.

The change in legal status meant that while drivers convicted of DLS would pay hefty fines and lose their license, tougher sanctions such jail sentences wouldn’t be imposed.

Since that time the number of people with multiple DLS convictions has increased and some people have amassed more than 50 convictions. In many cases they ignore the fines and continue to drive.

Essex Orleans senator Vincent Illuzzi also serves as a state’s attorney. He says the situation is getting out of control:

(Illuzzi) “so you just keep getting tickets you throw them out you get more tickets you throw them out the police are so frustrated because the repeat offenders know that there’s no consequence and they’re literally laughing in the face of police officers if there’s one bill that we can pass this year that will help with motor vehicles enforcement this is it.”

Lt. Bill O’Leary is the commander of the Vermont State Police Traffic Safety Division.

O’Leary says the driver of Thursday’s fatal accident had 14 DLS convictions but was still on the road because he ignored his suspension. The State Police believe excessive speed was a major factor in the crash.

O’Leary wants lawmakers to recriminalize repeat violations of DLS:

(O’Leary ) “Somebody who’s driving 49 times with a suspended license and continues to drive I think the best approach is to put handcuffs on him and put him in jail because that’s 49 times they put people on the road at risk these people are speeding they’re driving recklessly law enforcement has had several high speed pursuits with these individual because they nothing is going to happen to them it’s really putting innocent people at risk out there.”

Bennington senator Dick Sears is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee:

(Sears) “we don’t have the jail space to put everybody who drives without a license in jail and I’ve explained that to everybody involved here so we’re looking at alternatives such as taking away professional licenses taking away hunting and fishing licenses and other methods to get people to pay attention to what I think is a reasonable law that we expect that you will drive with a license.”

Sears says his committee is reviewing legislation passed by the House earlier this month that makes a 4th DLS conviction a criminal offense. Sears hopes his panel will vote on this bill in the next week or two.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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