Advocating overthrow of the U.S. government could land you in prison.
It could also drive up your car insurance rates.
Someone convicted under the McCarthy-era section in Title 18 of the U.S. penal code faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of up to $20,000. That’s not quite enough punishment for New York, which includes it among the reasons the state can suspend a driver’s license.
Advocating overthrow is one of 59 nondriving offenses that can lead to a suspended driver’s license in at least one jurisdiction, according to a 2012 draft report by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). Others include prostitution and solicitation, bounced checks and truancy. (See the whole list: “59 ways to lose your license -- a list.”)
Even a nondriving offense can have consequences for someone comparison shopping for coverage
“A suspended license is considered a minor offense by many insurance companies,” says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst at CarInsurance.com, “but if you’re unable to get your license reinstated and end up being dropped by your current insurer, you probably will have to turn to a high-risk insurer, which normally means paying very high premiums.”
Nonpayment of child support, furnishing alcohol to a minor and possession of illegal drugs are serious offenses that many people think should be punished.
Yet suspending a driver’s license in response to a conviction doesn't reduce crashes, is costly to administer and waters down such laws in the eyes of the public and law enforcement, says Sheila Prior, spokesperson for AAMVA. "They're using the driver's license as a hammer to deal with a plethora of offenses."
The group's draft report, titled "Alternative Solutions to Driver License Suspension for Non-Highway Safety Related Offenses," lists 59 "social non-conformance" violations that it says go beyond addressing poor driving behavior. The report found that nondriving-related offenses accounted for 29 percent of all driver suspensions in 2002, but that the percentage increased to 39 percent in 2006.
"It seems to be a way to get people to pay up on whatever you want them to pay up on," says John Bowman, spokesperson for the National Motorists Association. "The purpose of a driver's license is solely to certify that you're a responsible driver."
Bowman’s group believes licenses should be taken away only for driving-related offenses, not transgressions as a failure to pay tolls (Illinois, Maine) or student loans (Iowa, Montana).
"You can't say across the board that it doesn't work. It certainly works in some situations," Prior says, pointing to states that have increased child support payments by suspending driving privileges.
Unpaid penalties pile up
Twenty-one states and provinces suspend licenses for nonpayment of tickets for car-related offenses that aren’t moving violations. For example, Michigan recently reduced the number of unpaid parking tickets needed to revoke a license from six to three.
The AAMVA report says that violations tend to cascade. Fines, reinstatement fees and surcharges can mount quickly. When New Jersey examined its programs in 2006, almost 25,000 suspended drivers owed $25,000 or more in state penalties.
Michael Dixon says he lost his license five years ago because he let his Washington license tags expire. The original $200 fee ballooned to $2,000, which Dixon has paid off. But he also has about $5,000 in unpaid tickets that started with a $50 ticket for parking illegally.
"I can't even apply for certain jobs because I don't have a car," says Dixon, 38, whose fines include $200 for driving without a license.
The software engineer now rides his bike or takes the bus to freelance jobs he finds.
But many people keep on driving. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program found that three-fourths of drivers with suspended or revoked licenses continued to drive. In 2009, Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles estimated that one driver in every eight on Orange County (which includes Orlando) roads was unlicensed.
No license, no insurance
Drivers who lose their license to a nondriving-related offense should aim for the quickest possible reinstatement.
“You don’t want to be suspended at renewal time,” Gusner says. “Insurance companies assume the worst -- that you’ll be driving without a license.”
While some states, such as Illinois, allow an insurer to cancel a policy in the middle of its term if the driver’s license is suspended or revoked, most insurance companies don’t check driving records except at renewal.
Motorists who owe money can get their licenses back after they begin making payments and have paid any reinstatement fees. "A lot of times they don't lose their insurance, but their rates go up," Prior says.
Gusner agrees. A quickly settled suspension over something like a parking ticket may cost you your safe-driver discount, she says, but a long-term suspension probably means nonrenewal, unless you can get a hardship license from the state. (See “Am I insured under a hardship license?”)
State Farm Insurance doesn't have a policy to check motor vehicle records when a policy is renewed, but leaves it to its agents to check if a policyholder has a suspended license, says State Farm spokesperson Dick Luedke. An action is taken when an agent knows a customer's license has been suspended, Luedke says, adding that such a customer would generally be covered if he or she caused an accident.