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Keeping Repeat Offenders Off State’s Roads : The Safe Streets Act would permanently confiscate vehicles of those with suspended or revoked licenses who get behind the wheel anyway.

<i> Richard Katz represents the 39th District in the California Assembly</i>

In May I was saddened and angered to read about Pedro Guzman, a man whose 5-year-old son was killed when Guzman crashed into another car while he was allegedly driving drunk--again.

The accident happened in Sun Valley, in the heart of my Assembly district. What angered me so much was finding out that Guzman had no driver’s license and should have not been driving at all. His license had been revoked in 1989 for drunk driving.

Unfortunately, Guzman’s story is not unique. In the past few months we’ve heard about three youngsters’ dying when an unlicensed 15-year-old Santa Clarita girl got behind the wheel of a car, and about the Los Angeles grandmother who was driving with a suspended California license in Texas and killed 14 of her children and grandchildren.

All of these people would be alive today if they were not in cars with unlicensed drivers behind the wheel. But current laws aren’t working. They aren’t preventing unlicensed drivers from driving. The Legislature has tried raising fines and increasing penalties only to have repeated drunk drivers waltz out of courtrooms and back into their cars after having their licenses suspended or revoked by judges.

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The Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that a driver with a suspended license is four times as likely to be in a fatal accident as a licensed driver and that there are approximately 1,720,000 unlicensed drivers on California roads. That’s 1.7 million drivers with no license or a suspended or revoked license! Furthermore, 75% of those with licenses suspended for drunk driving continue to drive and are involved in 15% of all fatal car accidents in the state. That’s a lot of victims for a preventable crime--and it is preventable.

Earlier this year I introduced the Safe Streets Act of 1994 (AB 3148). The bill would require anyone who is caught driving without a license or with a suspended or revoked license to forfeit their car to the state--permanently. If we take their cars away, they can’t kill innocent people.

It is a punishment that fits the crime. People are using cars illegally and are killing and injuring innocent bystanders. A car in the hands of an unlicensed driver is as dangerous a weapon as any.

The Safe Streets Act of 1994 is one of the toughest unlicensed driver’s bills in the country, and it is necessary. It would not take cars away from those who leave their licenses at home or forgot to renew a recently expired license.

People who have their licenses suspended or revoked are multiple offenders. They have been caught repeatedly driving drunk or negligently. They have been warned and fined, but have chosen to ignore the law. It’s time to take tough action against those who threaten our families and friends.

Some people are concerned that a suspended driver or his family might be inconvenienced if a car is taken away. But what about the inconvenience of burying a loved one because someone who had no right to be on the road broke the law and drove anyway? What about the inconvenient, painful recovery accident survivors must endure?

Driving a car is not a constitutional right. It is a privilege, and some people seem to forget that. There are tests that people must take in order to get a license, and there are reasons licenses are suspended and revoked.

The Safe Streets Act of 1994 passed the Assembly in June. On Tuesday it will face a tough battle in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several senators have expressed reservations about the bill. They seem more concerned with criminals’ driving rights than the victims who suffer.

It’s time for people to start taking responsibility for their actions. The message is simple: If you want to drive a car in California, start acting like a responsible adult and obey the laws of this state, or we’re going to take your car away--for good.


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