Last month, a 22-year-old driver made a left-hand turn and ran over a child carrier being towed behind a parent’s bicycle. A four-year-old and a five-year-old were trapped in the carrier that was pinned underneath the driver’s Jeep. When the driver stepped out of the vehicle, the traumatized parent thought it was to help. Instead, the driver fled the scene on foot because he was scared of being caught while driving with a suspended or revoked license.
Last year, 102 people died on the road in Austin. However, a recent investigation from KXAN showed that 37 of those deaths were directly caused by or involved drivers with invalid or suspended licenses. The investigation goes on to show that thousands of drivers were issued citations for driving with a revoked or suspended license.
What is the APD Doing to Reduce the Number of Drivers with Suspended Licenses?
Currently, when the Austin Police Department (APD) pulls over a driver without a valid license, they will issue a citation if the driver is a first-time offender. First-time offenders leave the scene with a Class C misdemeanor and a promise to show up in Municipal Court to pay the fine. A second-time offender receives a Class B misdemeanor, but is also allowed to leave after receiving a citation. Though police officers can arrest these offenders, they often opt to release them in order to avoid tying up jail space with nonviolent offenders. This is called a cite and release.
According to the KXAN investigation, Austin’s Municipal Court dealt with 3,883 cases where APD issued citations to drivers with invalid or suspended licenses. Another 12,633 tickets were issued for drivers with revoked licenses or no licenses, which included repeat offenders. The APD Commander does admit to a lot of recidivism because people do not understand the seriousness of complying with the state law and getting a license. However, he says this may be due to individual lack of responsibility.
APD Needs to Step Up Enforcement for Drivers with a Revoked or Suspended License
The APD Commander may have a very valid point about each individual’s lack of responsibility when it comes to procuring, renewing or reinstating their driver’s licenses. However, there may be options APD and the City of Austin can take to reduce the number of drivers with revoked or suspended licenses.
APD should focus efforts on stepping up its enforcement for first or second-time offenders. Given the high number of offenders, issuing a ticket and letting the offender go does not seem to be working for Austinites and lives are being lost as a result. The City of Austin should do its part as well. The city could make more information on the process available as well as create incentive programs for those who want to renew or reinstate their licenses.