When I was 15, I couldn’t wait to drive a car. I counted the days. I was one of the youngest in my high school class, so when all my friends were driving during our sophomore year, I was still asking for a ride.
School started on my 16th birthday, and I had to wait until then to get a permit and take driver’s education. I didn’t get my license until December. That was a long, long four months.
In the 30 years since then, I’ve always had that license. Every few years I get a new picture taken, but my license has always been there. I’m just used to it.
Not everyone is blessed to have a license. Every morning, people appear in court and answer for the charge of driving under suspension. It was one of the things that amazed me when I became a judge — there are so many people without a license. They are suspended for a variety of reasons.
In fact, there are over 50 ways to lose your license in Ohio. A colleague of mine from Parma made up a song about that, and he sings it to the tune of the popular Paul Simon song, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” The judges get a big kick out of that song at our annual meetings.
There are nine different laws you can violate when you drive without a valid license. Penalties range from a simple fine to a six month jail sentence. Imagine – going to jail for driving your own car. It happens. Driving is serious.
There are some simple things you can do to protect your license:
First, keep your insurance. Many people let their insurance coverage lapse, not realizing that the company automatically tells the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) when it lapses. The BMV then automatically suspends your license. They don’t wait around, either. Many of the people I see never got the letter telling them about their suspensions. Their first notice was from the officer writing the ticket.
Second, if you get a ticket, pay it. Or fight it in court–you might be innocent. Do something. Just show up for court. If you do nothing, the court will cancel your license. It might also issue a warrant for your arrest, which is a good way for you to have a really bad day.
Third, pay your reinstatement fees. If you lose your license, often you can get it reinstated by paying a fee and showing proof of insurance. Many people do neither, and the fees grow until they cannot afford to pay them. You can make a payment plan if you cannot afford to pay your entire balance at one time. Most people can make that plan at the BMV or license bureau office.
Some people need court permission before they can get on a payment plan. If the BMV tells you this, you should apply at the Municipal Court for the county where you reside. We handle those requests frequently, and we are able to get most people approved quickly. Whenever possible, we will give you driving privileges until your suspension is over. We want you to drive legally to work and other necessary places.
If you don’t know your driving status, you can go to bmv.ohio.gov, and click on the Online Services link at the left side of the page. From there, you should be able to find out your license status, and if you are suspended you should be able to find out what you need to do to become legal again.
Mike Daugherty is Judge of the Clinton County Municipal Court.