TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley K. Turner and M. Teresa Ruiz to establish a restricted driver’s license for certain motor vehicle offenders with suspended licenses cleared the full Senate today.
The bill, S-654, would permit the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to issue a restricted use driver’s license endorsement for drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked for failure to pay motor vehicle surcharges or for accumulation of motor vehicle penalty points. Drivers with an accumulation of motor vehicle penalty points must first attend a Driver Improvement Program offered by the MVC before being eligible for the endorsement. Under the bill, a person convicted of drunk driving or refusing to take a breathalyzer test would not be eligible for an endorsement. The restricted use license would allow the driver to operate a motor vehicle exclusively to and from work, an accredited educational institution, a mandated treatment program, a health care facility, or a child care facility, according to the legislation.
“Although drivers have satisfied court-ordered suspensions and costs, they can still be subject to ongoing administrative penalties and suspensions issued by the MVC,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “New Jersey is one of only four states with a surcharge system, which can result in license suspension when a penalized driver cannot keep up with expensive surcharge payments that accumulate, with interest. The lack of a license often strips surcharged drivers of their ability to get to and from work, which ultimately results in job loss. This bill will help individuals who have paid the consequences of their driving violation, but who are now bogged down in a costly, administrative quagmire that makes becoming a driver in good standing nearly impossible.”
“People who are dealing with this issue are facing a no-win situation. Failing to provide a workable solution will only create additional obstacles for those who are trying to meet their obligations,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Issuing a restricted driver’s license will allow residents to travel to work, school, and to necessary doctors’ appointments. This will allow them to continue to earn a living and support themselves while they are working to pay off the fees that they owe.”
Drivers may apply for the endorsement if their driver’s licenses have been suspended or revoked for failure to pay motor vehicle surcharges and they agree to a payment plan approved by the chief administrator, or for an accumulation of motor vehicle penalty points, but only if they attend a driver improvement program.
“We should be eliminating barriers to employment to make it possible for more individuals to secure jobs and get to work and be less reliant on government programs,” added Senator Turner. “A restricted use license gives residents the necessary latitude to improve their circumstances. They can still drive to their job, enabling them to provide for their families and themselves.”
The bill would also establish some penalties for people who abuse their privilege. A driver would immediately be disqualified from their license, subject to a fine of at least $500 but not more than $1,000, 30 days of community service and an additional one year license suspension or revocation for drinking outside the established restrictions.
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have restricted or conditional use driver’s licenses for individuals with license suspensions. According to research conducted by Rutgers University, most states consider their programs to be effective. Some states noted that they have reduced the number of habitual offenders, reduced unemployment, and helped families to avoid serious hardships.
S-654 cleared the full Senate 23-15 and will now head to the Assembly for further consideration.