Back to Table of Contents
The news media periodically report on the increase in the number of serious traffic crashes involving drivers with suspended or revoked licenses. When this occurs, local law enforcement and highway safety officials search for answers. Driving with a suspended or revoked license is not a new phenomenon. It reflects a rising number of drivers with multiple suspensions or revocations who are identified and arrested after causing a major crash. Compliance with suspension or revocation orders is almost totally disregarded. State motor vehicle officials estimate that "as high as 80 percent" of the people with suspended or revoked licenses are continuing to operate motor vehicles.
For example, in the State of California there are an estimated 20 million licensed motorists. Approximately four million of these motorists have suspended or revoked driving privileges. According to a recent study conducted within the State, 70 percent of the drivers with suspended or revoked licenses continue to drive. Further investigation revealed that suspended or revoked drivers were involved in crashes that took nearly 500 lives in 1993, 12 percent of California's total fatalities. This problem prompted the National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) to conduct a nationwide research project to determine what agencies were doing to enforce suspension and revocation sanctions.
The research disclosed numerous programs focusing on the operator or the vehicle. A program named "Hot Sheet," used by the Ohio State and Florida State Highway Patrols, was determined to be the most viable. By scrutinizing a computer printout supplied by the Department of Motor Vehicles, law enforcement officers are able to extract the names of the most chronic offenders. The program was modified to meet the needs of local law enforcement agencies, and pilot tested for nine months in Ohio County, West Virginia, and Salt Lake County, Utah.
Salt Lake County, a community of 850,000 people, has an average of 50,000 drivers on suspension at any given time. The target populations for their program were the 3,000 drivers whose licenses were suspended for impaired driving. As the list of offenders was being formalized, local officials were surprised to find one individual who had been suspended 50 times! The pilot test in Salt Lake County produced 131 separate "hot sheets." Working from these sheets, deputies increased the number of persons arrested for operating after suspension or revocation by 14 percent.
Ohio County experienced their greatest success when using the "Hot Sheet" program at traffic check points. The biggest problem experienced in Ohio County was its close proximity to Pennsylvania and Ohio. Operators facing suspension or revocation sanctions could obtain a legal driver's license from either of the two neighboring States before their names were entered into the National Driver Register (a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] program designed to prohibit multiple licenses).
Since operating with a suspended or revoked license is an "undetectable" offense to the eye of law enforcement officers, there are no clues to draw attention to the violator. Officers refer to this as an "invisible traffic violation." Unlike speeding, non-use of safety belts or driving while impaired, driving with a suspended or revoked license is an offense that cannot be observed by patrol officers and clues cannot be articulated to justify a legal traffic stop. Enforcement personnel may stop a vehicle only with other justification, such as another traffic violation, lawfully approved checkpoints, or have prior know-
ledge that the vehicle is being operated by a suspended or revoked driver. As more states pass legislation invoking administrative license sanctions, the number of drivers operating with suspended or revoked licenses will grow.
Based on the pilot tests and the need to provide a practical solution to a problem, NSA refined and modified the "Hot Sheet" program for local law enforcement officials. This program can have a dramatic effect on reducing the number of individuals driving after their licenses are suspended or revoked.