Bill would end driver's license forfeiture after traffic stops
Getting pulled over for rolling through a stop sign or speeding in Illinois often means temporary loss of your driver's license, leaving you without the identification you need to get on a plane, check into a hotel, buy certain medicines and handle any number of common tasks that require an ID.
But some law enforcement officials raised concerns about a plan to let drivers keep their licenses while their cases are pending, saying the need to get the ID back is an incentive to pay the fine or show up to court.
State Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, wants to change the law so Illinois residents can keep their licenses after minor traffic violations.
"For law-abiding citizens that made a wrong turn or were speeding a little bit more than they should, it will make life a whole lot easier," Noland said.
State law requires people who get traffic tickets to post bond before driving away, so drivers trade their licenses for their freedom. The court gives back the license after the driver shows up in court or pays the fine.
"It's to ensure they're going to address that ticket," said Kane County sheriff's Lt. Pat Gengler. "There is a percent of people that just don't show up to court. It's a way for people to face these charges."
Noland's proposal, which he calls the "sign and drive" plan, replaces driver's license confiscation with a written agreement the offender signs promising to show up in court or pay the fine on time, called an individual bond.
"He would provide you with the ticket," Noland said. "You would sign your name promising to either pay your fine or appear in court. Then you would just drive right down the road."
Gengler said Kane County often already uses individual bonds instead of taking licenses.
"We're not going to send someone to jail for a speeding ticket," Gengler said.
Limey Nargelenas, deputy director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said in the past people stopped for a traffic citation could post a cash bond, a bail bond card that comes from an insurance company or a driver's license. Police stopped taking cash bonds because "if an officer accepted cash money on the street it doesn't always look good."
Noland said his plan would make individual bonds the primary form of bond for a driver.
Courts would tell the secretary of state's office if offenders failed to show up in court or pay fines. That office could suspend their licenses.
Former Republican state Sen. John Millner, a former Elmhurst police chief, said Noland's plan "has merit" but could cause more paperwork for court officials when drivers skip their dates.
"There are a number of advantages and disadvantages in terms of giving up your driver's license," Millner said. "On one hand, it makes sure you show up in court. But it's an inconvenience for the motorist and the officers."
Noland said he doesn't think taking the driver's license is a good way to get people to show up in court, and some people will ignore their notice to appear in court no matter what the incentive.
"What we're really getting at here is to stop inconveniencing people who are law-abiding citizens, who would gladly pay right away or appear in court if they want to contest," Noland said. "But now they're going without their driver's license that's very important."
His proposal has been approved by an Illinois Senate committee and awaits a vote by the full Senate.