What Does It Take to Keep a Reckless New York Driver Off the Road?

We heard the question more than once. When it was reported that Allmir Lekperic, the unlicensed driver who killed Peter and Lillian Sabados as they walked to Thanksgiving Mass on Staten Island last Wednesday evening, had racked up some 29 license suspensions since 2006, Streetsblog readers wondered: How is this guy not behind bars, much less behind the wheel?

The answer, in a nutshell, is that as long as you stay sober and pay your fines, in New York State you can pretty much count not only on avoiding jail time, but retaining your driving privileges with minimal interruption no matter how many times you are ticketed, even if you take a life — a systemic failure that Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Kelly continue to ignore, though the city death count shows no sign of abating.

Let’s start with what it means to have one’s license suspended or revoked. “Suspension simply means you are suspended for a time certain after which you can go to DMV, pay a reinstatement fee, and get your license back,” says Scott Cerbin, a city defense attorney who participated in the October TA/TSTC legal symposium on vehicular violence. “Revocation — which is usually a six month minimum — means that you are revoked for at least a time certain after which you can ask the commissioner to reinstate you.”

According to the DMV, accumulating 11 or more license points within 18 months will trigger either a suspension or revocation, though it’s “usually” just for 31 days. Here is a sampling of singular offenses and their prescribed penalties:

  • Aggravated DWI, or DWI with a .18 percent BAC: 1 year revocation
  • DWI, or with a .08 percent BAC: 6 month revocation
  • Homicide, assault or criminal negligence resulting in death from the operation of a motor vehicle: 6 month minimum revocation
  • 3 speeding and/or misdemeanor traffic violations committed within 18 months: 6 month revocation
  • Leaving the scene of a fatal or personal injury accident: 6 month revocation

As you can see, even in the rare case where someone dies and the motorist is charged and convicted, driving privileges are not necessarily threatened for a period exceeding six months.

“Currently the law is written to keep people driving, as if driving were
somehow a civil right,” says Kyle Wiswall of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Revisions are needed to better reflect the fact
that driving is a privilege, one that is permanently and irretrievably
revocable when you repeatedly endanger other people.”

Jail time and vehicle forfeiture do not enter the picture unless a driver is either intoxicated or convicted of first or second degree aggravated unlicensed operation (driving with a suspended or revoked license). Imprisonment is not mandatory, however, even for a conviction of first degree AUO, a felony. And Cerbin explains that a habitually dangerous driver can flout the law at will and still keep his or her license “clear.”

“You have to look closer at the suspensions. For example, if a motorist receives, say, six tickets at once — speeding, fail to signal, unlicensed, uninsured, no seat belt, and cell phone — and fails to appear at DMV he will have six suspensions. Additionally, the amount of points generated by these tickets may generate a seventh suspension. He cannot be arrested for 511 [driving without a license] unless he is actually stopped while driving on the suspensions.

“In the Staten Island case, it is unclear how many active suspensions existed. For example, let’s assume our guy had seven. He could go into DMV, pay the fines, show proof that he had insurance, and have his license reinstated. Note that the judge there could make a deal and drop some of the tickets in exchange for a plea on one [or] some of the charges. If this happened on a regular basis one could have had 29 suspensions over four years.”

The DMV says applications may be denied for those with poor driving records — which you’d think would be the case with many who have had their licenses revoked. I asked Cerbin what a driver would have to do in New York State to lose his license permanently. “I have represented clients who have had multiple felony DWI cases and are revoked for one year,” he said. “However, it is unlikely that the commissioner will ever relicense these individuals.”

So, at least for some drivers who persist in putting lives at risk, the revolving door eventually stops spinning. That’s little consolation when every day more innocent victims are hurt and killed by motorists whose deadly behavior is not fueled by alcohol.

Says Wiswall: “Endangering others means not only DUI, but high risk behavior like speeding, driving while distracted and failing to signal — violations now accepted in practice as norms on the road, harmless things people always do and occasionally get ‘busted’ for.”

  • Eileen

    Thanks for a really interesting and enlightening discussion. Any idea how NY compares to other states/jurisdictions?

  • Scofflaw

    Nice piece. So how many motorists driving with a suspended or revoked license actually serve jail time for hitting someone? What are the real world consequences to driving after your license gets taken away? My guess is none. Maybe they suspend your license again. (PS you should have put the word “harmless” in quotation marks.

  • BB

    Another article, showing America is not the one addicted to driving. Government is, and will do everything it can (give motorists money, take money away from other people, subsidze their fuel and parking, allow a group to kill and injury, allow them to pollute unabated, text, drive fast >20, coddle them, and ignore any other means of transit) to keep these people behind the wheel of an automobile.

  • Of course dangerous drivers don’t go to jail. If they were in jail, they would become unfunded liabilities on the state’s balance sheet; on the road, they are sources of revenue.

  • Is this the guy we should send complaints to about the re-licensing of drivers? Or is this a legislative issue?

    David J Swarts, Commissioner
    Department of Motor Vehicles
    6 Empire State Plaza
    Albany, NY 12228

    Basically, is this an administrative policy that we can work towards or is this a matter of changing the law? (I understand it might be a little of both, but how much power does the DMV commissioner have??

  • Glenn: As I understand it, judges impose sentencing, including license suspension or revocation, based on the law, while the DMV commissioner decides (in the case of revocation) if the driver gets his/her license back. So, as you surmised, a little of both.

  • So what I’m asking is: is it worth time and effort on a campaign to get the Commissioner to stop allowing a license revocation to seemingly automatically end on time? How many license revocations are there in NYS or NYC? How many are eventually reissued after a revocation?

    It seems the whole motorist enforcement system is on auto pilot, unaware of the public health & safety issues at sake.

  • Glenn, the Driver Responsibility Program taps $300 (over three years) from every licensed driver with a traffic conviction. If the state took away licenses for good, those funds would cease.

  • Tom Middleton

    As a public health policy, we could target the statistically significant risk factors/vectors, ie; drivers with 29 freakin suspensions and isolate them, ie; revoke their licenses for longer terms, on the basis that they are a significant risk to others in the community–like Megan’s Law requires sex offenders to register where they live.

  • Jmckin

    Your article, while interesting, is flawed. The individual whom you use to illustrate your argument did not have his license suspended for reckless driving. All of the suspensions stemmed from unpaid parking tickets.

    Perhaps you should choose an individual whose actions more closely mirror the points you are trying to make. At best, Lekperic was guilty of reckless parking prior to this tragic accident.

  • Hm… money … or safety? Yeah, I think we should give up that $300 per conviction; how much do we wind up paying for that $300 down the road?

    People on Streetsblog may be pissed at Sadik-Khan right now, but I think she’s shown us what a dynamic agency leader with a mandate from the chief executive can accomplish. Imagine if Paterson were to appoint someone like Maureen McCormick as DMV Commissioner and tell her, “Do whatever it takes to keep dangerous drivers off the roads.”

  • Your article, while interesting, is flawed. The individual whom you use to illustrate your argument did not have his license suspended for reckless driving. All of the suspensions stemmed from unpaid parking tickets.

    Broken windows, anyone?

  • jmckin

    “Broken windows, anyone?”

    I don’t follow. Is that an attempt at a pot shot? If so, I’m afraid it fell flat.

  • Violator

    Well, I for sure think there is a BIG difference between suspensions based on a poor driving record and suspensions based on parking tickets.

    You can get your license suspended for parking tix if you’re even one day late with a payment. I’m a driver with a spotless record. I’ve never been cited for speeding, seatbelts, talking on a cell, etc. As a matter of fact, I’ve never been involved in an accident or received a moving violation of any kind.

    However, I’ve got suspensions on record for parking ticket late payments. Sometimes people don’t have the means to pay parking violations right away or they simply forget (life gets in the way). Heaven forbid I’m ever involved in such an unfortunate accident. I’d look like the world’s worst driver. And why? Because most people in the media (this blogger included, sadly) don’t bother to look into why the license revocations happened in the first place? Sad.

  • vnm

    What’s the difference between aggravated unlicensed operation and, just, unlicensed operation?

  • jmckin, what hes saying is that those who break one law are more likely to break another law.

    Eileen, last week in Massachusetts, a drunk driver ran over a 17 year old in a crosswalk. She had no insurance, a suspended license, and suspended registration. She didn’t spend a minute in jail, she was sent home on the promise that she wouldnt drive. No bail. A promise. WTF?

    Perhaps a change in federal law would be best.

  • vnm

    OK, another way of phrasing my question is: Why does driving a car without a license have to be aggravated before it’s meaningful?

  • Jmckin

    Ah, I see. Thank you for the clarification, jass.

    I don’t buy that. Even those who pride themselves on not being scofflaws have parking tickets. Especially those of us who are on the road a great deal for work. I don’t think those types of violations equate to actions that “repeatedly endanger other people”…

    Like I said, a different example would’ve better suited B.A.’s article.

  • Jmckin/Violator: Per the New York Times:

    The official said that Mr. Lekperic had also been stopped at least four times for not wearing his seatbelt, as well as for talking on his cellphone while driving, following another car too closely and driving without a license.

    Thanks for weighing in. If you have anything else to say on this topic, feel free to post on your own blog.

  • Ian Turner

    There is another wrinkle missing here, which is that expire based on the date of the offense but don’t go into effect until the date of the conviction. By dragging out the court process, a defendant can effectively escape the suspension: For example, if a driver is caught driving with a BAC of 0.10 on January 1st, but manages to delay the court proceedings until June 1, then by the time the conviction takes place, the suspension has already expired.

  • Costs for parking make up about half of all the costs associated with driving. Drivers should pay for their parking or not drive.

    Also, if people can drive without licenses, then the whole concept of driving licenses becomes a joke.

  • thank you brad.

  • Q: What Does It Take to Keep a Reckless New York Driver Off the Road?

    A: Simple. This is America. They need to be caught with a little bit of marijuana. THEN they’re a public health menace in which our police will take an interest…

    Talk about a society that can’t get its priorities straight.

  • jmckinley

    ?Wow.  I can’t believe you sent so far as to block me from posting on your blog.  I’m using an alternative email address.??It’s okay for you to criticize others and judge, but you can’t handle having YOUR opinions questioned?  Welcome to the internet.  If you want to present your opinions in a public forum, you’re bound to have detractors and have all that you present questioned and challenged. ??The NYT stated that he had “been stopped” at least four times.  At no point do they say that his suspensions were due to those times, because they were not.  They also do not specify the timeline in which these tickets were issued.  Is it from the date he first received his license?  I bet if we examined your driving record from age 17 onward we could manipulate facts to make you appear very careless as well.  Also, the use of the phrase “at least four times” means exactly four times.  If there were more, the Times would’ve specified more.  They were trying to imply that there were without printing a falsehood.  Makes for a more sensational and interesting read than “suspended 29 times due to unpaid parking tickets”…??Again, try all you like, your choice of example was a poor one.  If you don’t like hearing that, then don’t discuss the lives of others.  Or at least don’t do so on the internet.

  • jmckinley

    My apologies for the question marks. It seems they popped up unbeknownst to me. Feel free to block this email address as well, Brad. You can get back to bashing others without all the facts to promote your own opinions unchallenged. Some blog you have here.

  • jmckinley –

    Please stop whining, nobody cares.

  • IP addresses with comments posted under multiple aliases are subject to being blocked.

    The actions of the driver speak for themselves. Whether his license was suspended 29 times for unpaid parking tickets or moving violations, he was breaking the law even before he ran over two people. Then he left them to die in the street. Then he tried to cover up his crime.

    If that’s not an example of someone who needs to be kept off the road, if not forcibly separated from the general population, I haven’t seen one.

  • After a couple letters, my State Senator agreed to sign on to S.183, which would make it a felony to cause serious injury to another while diriving without a license. As it turns out, Sen. Kruger is the only member of the Senate to co-sponsor this measure, which was intrduced by senator Flanagan of Suffolk county. Other SB’ers should write their Senators!

    I have no illusions that this will get done this or next session, but over time a critical mass of support could accrete for a measure like this. Maybe by that time, NYS government will be functioning again!

  • Costs for parking make up about half of all the costs associated with driving. Drivers should pay for their parking or not drive.