Kansas City newspaper says improperly licensed motorists blamed in third of deadly crashes

Monday, October 16, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Drivers with revoked or suspended licenses caused a disproportionate number of Kansas City's recent fatal accidents, according to an investigation by The Kansas City Star.

In a recent 20-month period, improperly licensed drivers were involved in a third of the city's fatal wrecks, the Star found.

The risk to innocent motorists is second only to the threat of being hit by a drunken driver, national experts say. Yet the public does not recognize the danger, said Robert Scopatz, a researcher with Data Nexus Inc., which produced a 2003 study for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety on the problem.

Twenty-four drivers with revoked or suspended licenses caused wrecks that killed themselves or others, The Star found after analyzing 110 crashes from January 2005 through August 2006. Overall, the wrecks killed 116 people. Forty-nine were not at fault.

The newspaper also reported that drivers with revoked or suspended licenses represent only 14 percent of Missouri's licensed drivers, but they caused about 25 percent of Kansas City's fatal wrecks in which a driver was found at fault.

In Kansas City, improperly licensed drivers -- motorists who were not licensed or whose licenses were revoked or suspended -- were involved in 33 percent of fatal wrecks. Nationally, such drivers were involved in only 20 percent of fatal wrecks, a study found.

Drivers impaired by alcohol or drugs or driving motorcycles without the proper license also caused Kansas City wrecks, lifting the number of who should not have been on the road to more than 50 percent.

Once ticketed, such drivers often fail to show up for court, yet they continue to drive. Others receive probation, violate it and get more probation.

Judges hesitate to assign jail time when there's no cell space. Defense attorneys argue that their clients didn't commit a violent crime and must drive to work to feed their families and pay child support.

Even killing someone while driving doesn't guarantee a charge or jail time. Prosecutors must show criminal negligence or recklessness, which can be a hard sell to a jury that may include drivers who committed similar violations.

Jackson County Prosecutor Mike Sanders called the problem "a major public safety issue."

"The solution is to put these offenders in jail," he said, "but given the jail overcrowding in Jackson County, the threat of real jail time doesn't exist."

Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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