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Editorial: Checking licenses

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A year-old federal law called the Motor Carriers Safety Improvement Act is aimed at drivers who lose their licenses in one state and attempt to avoid the penalties of suspended or revoked licenses by obtaining new licenses in another state. Until last year, that was fairly easy to do, because states did not share information about driving infractions. Under the new federal law, which went into effect in September 2005, that information is not only shared, it is mandatory that state agencies check the shared database before issuing or renewing licenses.

While the law's intent is a good one, it also provides a bureaucratic quagmire for some motorists. Take the case of the Jackson woman who was the subject of a Southeast Missourian news story last Sunday. When she recently tried to renew her Missouri driver's license, she discovered that her 35-year-old DWI conviction in Illinois was in the database, and her renewal was denied.

As a result, Ella Jean Pleasant has spent weeks and several hundred dollars trying to satisfy Illinois officials who say she failed to follow proper procedures in obtaining a Missouri license after her three-year revocation in Illinois.

Pleasant says she has had no other DWIs and has regularly renewed her Missouri driver's license over the intervening years since her head-on collision on Highway 146 in Illinois 35 years ago.

But the new federal law doesn't account for lapsed time. It has no statute of limitations. Which means anyone who has a similar blot on his or her driving record could face the possibility of being denied a license and having to go through the same hoops as Pleasant.

Unfortunately for motorists in similar situations, bureaucratic procedures don't allow much leeway for motorists who have turned their lives around and have accumulated safe-driving records over a period of years. The federal law will, in the long run, protect other motorists from those who are still a menace and who purposely try to skirt suspended or revoked licenses by skipping from state to state.


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