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Should NH lessen the penalty for driving without a driver’s license?

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There are a variety of reasons someone might break the law by driving without a valid driver’s license—they let it expire, or their family couldn’t afford drivers’ education courses, for example. If someone drives without a license because they can’t pass a safety test, however, it puts everyone on the road at risk. A 2015 law introduced stricter penalties for those who drive without a license. Now New Hampshire is considering HB 201, a bill to roll back some of those changes.

A proposal to ease up on unlicensed drivers

Driving without a license is a Class B misdemeanor in the Granite State. Before 2015, it was a simple violation. A misdemeanor is considered a criminal act, while a violation is not—rather, it is more like a speeding ticket. This year Rep. George Sykes (D-Lebanon) introduced HB 201, which changes the penalties for driving without a license back to a violation. A second conviction within twelve months would be a misdemeanor. The bill also only applies to those driving without ever getting a license or with an expired license—it wouldn’t apply to revoked licenses. (A revoked license can follow a DUI or other major driving offense.)

The punishment should fit the crime

HB 201 was crafted with the input of stakeholders including churches and the ACLU. They argue that the current penalties for driving without a license unfairly impact low-income individuals and immigrants who may face barriers to obtaining a driver's license. A misdemeanor charge has long-lasting consequences, including hurting job and rental applications. This makes it even harder for economically-challenged families to escape the cycle of poverty that prevents them from getting a license in the first place.

Rep. Sykes reassured the Judiciary Committee during the bill’s public hearing that unlicensed drivers would still be subject to all other penalties for other driving offenses, such as speeding.

Keeping our roads safe must be a priority

There are some who oppose the bill. Rep. Jennifer Rhodes (R-Winchester) testified against HB 201 at a public hearing. She argued that a driver's license serves as proof that an individual understands the rules of the road. Rhodes believes that excuses like the cost of driver's education courses or licenses should not be made for someone who may harm others on New Hampshire roadways. She contends that renewing an expired license is a simple matter that should be able to be done in a reasonable time. Rhodes emphasized that New Hampshire was one of the cheaper states to drive in.

New Hampshire raised the penalty for driving without a license in 2015 after an unlicensed driver killed two bicyclists in a collision.

What do you think?

Does New Hampshire’s current law help keep our roads safer? Or is it too harsh as it stands now? The Senate will vote on this bill soon; so, whatever your opinion, let your senators know by contacting them. Click here to find who represents you.

Update: The Senate voted to kill HB 201.


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