Bill targets drivers who ignore suspended license

Two state legislators said they are drafting a bill that, if eventually signed into law, would impose a mandatory minimum jail sentence for individuals convicted of driving with a suspended license multiple times.

Republican Assembly members Mary Pat Angelini and Ronald Dancer announced on Aug. 20 that their bill is being drafted in an attempt to make the state’s roads safer.

“People with a suspended license should not be on the road, and if they choose to ignore their suspension, they should face stricter penalties,” Angelini said.

According to the state Motor Vehicle Commission, a driver’s license can be suspended for a number of reasons, including failure to pay fines, failure to provide proof of insurance, being convicted of driving while intoxicated or reckless driving, being at fault in a fatal accident and accruing 12 or more points on a personal driving record.

Currently, motorists convicted of operating a vehicle with a suspended license are subject to a fine, points on their driver’s record and a surcharge of $250 a year for three years.

Under existing law, those found guilty of driving with a suspended license are only sent to jail if they are involved in an accident that causes other individuals bodily harm, according to the legislators.

Under the proposed legislation, any motorist found to be driving with a suspended license for the second time would serve a mandatory jail sentence of 30 days. A third conviction would carry a 60-day jail term and a fourth conviction would carry a 90- day jail term.

In the event a motorist is found guilty of driving with a suspended license for a fifth offense or more in a five-year time frame, the bill is expected to mandate that the driver be sentenced to one year in jail.

Dancer said the proposed bill stems from an incident on Aug. 4 when Patrick Clayton, 27, of Berkeley Township, struck two men with his vehicle, killing one of the men.

According to officials, Clayton had his license suspended 25 times prior to the incident and had not had a valid driver’s license since 2006. He had also twice been convicted of driving while intoxicated and had three warrants out for his arrest.

Clayton was charged with death by auto, fleeing the scene of a crash involving a death and causing a death while driving with a suspended license.

“Driving while your license is suspended should entail greater penalties than a slap on the wrist,” Dancer said. “By enacting a greater deterrent such as jail time … we can keep some of those habitual offenders off the road.”