Getting up to speed
Bill would end license confiscation
The archaic practice, said to date back to the 1950s, can be costly both for license-less motorists forced to obtain state identification cards and for circuit clerks who process paperwork and return licenses once fines are paid. But a bill before the legislature may soon prohibit cops from taking licenses so that speeders and folks who make illegal turns can go on their way after simply signing tickets.
State Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, is sponsoring the bill and doesn’t mince words: The days of police taking licenses for minor traffic offenses are all but over.
“It’s going to happen in Illinois,” Noland predicts. “Forty-nine other states are doing this.”
Chris Kachiroubas, circuit clerk for DuPage County, has been pushing to end the practice since he was elected 10 years ago.
“I looked at it as an outsider – ‘This is crazy, why are we still doing this?’” recalls Kachiroubas, who is president of the Illinois Association of Court Clerks.
So it was that Kachiroubas began building the case for common sense. He began with an audit to determine how much money his office was spending to process paperwork and mail licenses back to drivers. He arrived at approximately $5 per license. That was in 2005, when roughly 90,000 licenses were confiscated in DuPage County. The theory, at least, is that motorists are more likely to pay tickets if their licenses are taken from them.
“It becomes a cost factor,” Kachiroubas notes. “This legislation is only for petty offenses. These are matters where you made a bad left turn, a bad right turn.”
Police would still take licenses from motorists accused of serious offenses such as driving under the influence. The current law doesn’t require cops to seize licenses for minor offenses, and the practice has been on the wane. In Sangamon County, for instance, police seized 838 licenses for minor traffic offenses last year, 1,061 licenses in 2012 and 1,478 licenses in 2011, according to the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk’s office.
The numbers come as no surprise to Sangamon County undersheriff Jack Campbell.
“Anecdotally, I knew we were taking them less and less often,” says Campbell, who estimates that 90 percent of motorists cited for minor traffic offenses are sent on their way with licenses still in hand. “We understand the importance of keeping a photo ID.”
Motorists whose licenses have been taken by police are supposed to use their traffic tickets in lieu of bona fide licenses until their licenses are returned. That might fly on Illinois streets and highways, but bars and airports, where government-issued photo ID is essential, are another matter, and so young people who want to imbibe or anyone who needs to fly can find themselves having to buy a state ID card, which can cost as much as $20, depending on your age.
“Getting on an airplane, you’ve got to have photo ID,” Kachiroubas says. “If you hand them a crinkly gold ticket, which is the defendant’s copy, you can imagine what the TSA agent is going to say to you.”
Kachiroubas went to the general assembly after the state Supreme Court, which he says has the power to change the practice, failed to act on a 2008 recommendation from an ad hoc committee that included representatives from the secretary of state’s office, Illinois State Police and the insurance industry. Kachiroubas is diplomatic about the court’s less-than-lightning speed in acting on the committee’s recommendation to start handling traffic tickets the same way as the rest of the world.
“The court is deliberate,” Kachiroubas says. “It doesn’t make decisions without the facts. I believe the legislature is the quicker path at this point.”
Kachiroubas isn’t stopping at reforming the process so that motorists who drive a bit too fast or don’t come to full and complete stops at intersections can keep their licenses. Next up, he says, is giving cops the necessary equipment so that traffic scofflaws can pay fines on the spot with credit cards.
“That’s my next dream,” he says.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.