Location:
MOTOR VEHICLES (GENERAL); TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS;
Scope:
Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report


June 23, 2010

 

2010-R-0264

DRIVER RETRAINING PROGRAM AND LICENSE SUSPENSION

By: Paul Frisman, Principal Analyst

You asked about a Connecticut law that requires a driver to take a state-mandated driver retraining course, but does not require license suspension, when the driver commits a specified number of moving violations. You also asked about Connecticut laws under which a license could be suspended and similar laws in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York.

SUMMARY

Under Connecticut law, a driver who commits a certain number of specific moving or suspension violations must attend a four-hour driver retraining program. There is no limit on the number of times an individual can take the program. A driver who continues to commit violations that put him or her over the statutory limit must repeat the program. However, the state cannot suspend a driver's license solely for continuing to commit these types of offenses.

We found state laws allowing DMV to suspend a driver's license when the driver:

1. violates a particular law requiring or allowing a suspension,

2. has a “history of unsafe operation,”

3. accumulates 11 or more points on his driving record,

4. is convicted of several speeding violations in a certain length of time, or

5. is found by police to be physically or mentally unfit to drive without endangering the public.

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reviewed the retraining program in 2004, and proposed several changes, including obtaining statutory authority to suspend the license of a driver who continues to offend, and suggesting that the legislature enact an habitual traffic offender law.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York each has a point system in which drivers who accumulate a specified number of points face license suspension. Massachusetts and New Jersey have driver improvement programs similar to Connecticut's.

GROUNDS FOR SUSPENDING LICENSES IN CONNECTICUT

Requiring a driver to repeatedly take the state-mandated retraining course does not, by itself, constitute grounds for suspending a license. Grounds for license suspension are specified in more than 20 statutes. Some statutes, such as that for driving under the influence (CGS 14-227a) specify both the offense and the punishment, including license suspension. Suspensions for other offenses, such as evading responsibility, fall under the statute that grants the DMV commissioner general authority to suspend licenses (CGS 14-111 (b)). For more information on these laws, see OLR Report 2007-R-0636. In this report we address only suspensions imposed on drivers who commit a series of moving violations.

“History of Unsafe Operation”

By law, the commissioner has broad authority to suspend a driver's license “for any cause that he deems sufficient, with or without a hearing” (CGS 14-111(a)). DMV regulations, however, restrict this authority to instances where a driver has been convicted of three unsafe traffic violations and incurs a fourth such conviction within two years of his or her conviction for the first violation. The regulations refer to this as a “history of unsafe operation” (Conn Agency Regs. 14-137-82). In such cases the commissioner may suspend a driver's license for 30 days. (By regulation, unsafe traffic violations include, among others, traveling unreasonably fast, disobeying an officer's orders, and failing to obey a control signal or stop sign.)

Point System

State regulations allow the commissioner to suspend the license of a driver who accumulates 11 or more points on his driving record. DMV regulations assign between one and five points for various motor vehicle violations, ranging from one point for operating at an unreasonable speed to five points for negligent homicide with a motor vehicle (Conn. Agency Regs. 14-137a-5 et seq.) Points remain on a driver's record for two years from the date they are assessed.

However, the point system yields few suspensions because the commissioner cannot assess any points for an infraction or other motor vehicle violation for which the driver paid a fine and any fees to the Centralized Infractions Bureau (CGS 14-137a). “Assuming that…the public policy of the state will be to continue to encourage the payment of fines directly to the…bureau,” DMV stated in a 2005 report (attached), DMV “would be severely limited in any attempt to operate an effective points-based system to regulate the conduct of drivers who commit traffic related moving and suspension violations.”

Speeding Violations

The law bars the commissioner from suspending a driver's license for a first, second, or third speeding conviction unless the court specifically directs him to do so. The suspension cannot be for more than 30 days. But the law requires license suspension for a fourth and subsequent violations if they occur in a two-year period. For a fourth speeding violation, the commissioner must suspend a license for up to 30 days. He must suspend a license for 60 days for a fifth conviction, and for six months for each subsequent conviction in that time period (CGS 14-111b).

Physically or Mentally Unfit Driver

In certain cases, DMV regulations permit police to confiscate a driver's license when a driver is arrested or apprehended. This can only occur if the officer in charge of a police barracks, precinct, or police station believes a driver's physical or mental condition renders the driver unfit to drive without endangering public safety. In such a case, the driver's license is withdrawn or suspended. The officer may, in the DMV commissioner's name, take possession of the license and send it, along with a brief statement and explanation of the offense or violation, to the commissioner within 24 hours (Conn Agency Regs. 14-217-1). See OLR Report 2005-R-0686 for more information on this regulation.

DRIVER RETRAINING PROGRAM

Mandate

By law (CGS 14-111g) drivers who commit specific moving or suspension violations must attend a four-hour driver retraining program. For the purposes of the retraining program, moving violations include speeding, reckless driving, improper passing, failure to grant the right of way, and a number of other violations. Suspension violations are negligent homicide with a motor vehicle, evasion of responsibility, driving under the influence, 2nd- degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, misconduct with a motor vehicle, and 2nd- degree assault with a motor vehicle (CGS 14-111g).

Drivers older than age 24 must attend the program if they have committed three such violations; drivers age 24 or younger if they have committed two such violations. The commissioner, after notice and an opportunity for a hearing, may suspend the license of anyone who fails to attend or successfully complete the program. (DMV regulations require offenders to successfully complete the program within 60 days of receiving notice that they must take it. Failure to complete the class in that time results in license suspension until an offender successfully completes it (Conn. Agency Regs. 14-111g-9(a))).

Course Content

The program (1) reviews principles of operating a motor vehicle, (2) develops alternative attitudes for those that contribute to aggressive driving behavior, and (3) emphasizes the practice of safe driving behavior. By regulation, anyone who successfully completes the program but incurs another conviction of a moving or suspension violation that places him or her over the statutory threshold must repeat the program (Conn. Agency Regs. 14-111g-2 (d)).

There is no limit on the number of times an offender can take the program. No sanctions apply based on the number of times a driver must take the course.

East Hartford Case

Your request was prompted by a recent East Hartford case in which a driver has apparently taken the state-mandated driver retraining course several times, yet has continued to commit moving violations without having his license suspended.

In a June 4, 2010 letter to East Hartford officials (attached), DMV Commissioner Robert Ward noted that the driver has been found guilty of six moving violations (three violations of traveling unreasonably fast, two of speeding, and one of unsafe start) since 2006. (He also had been cited for five other, “non-moving” violations.) The commissioner noted that these are not enough to trigger license suspension. (The three violations of traveling unreasonably fast are considered unsafe traffic violations, but the driver did not incur a fourth such violation in two years that would trigger a 30-day suspension for a history of unsafe driving. The driver also did not accumulate enough points, or commit enough speeding violations, to warrant a suspension.)

Ward noted in the letter that an impending administrative suspension, with an effective date of July 23, 2010, will not take effect if the driver successfully completes the driver retraining program by that time. He also noted that the driver still faces a charge of reckless driving in Superior Court, for which he has requested accelerated rehabilitation. Reckless driving is punishable by a fine of between $100 and $300, and up to 30 days in jail for a first offense, and by a fine of up to $600 and one year in jail for subsequent offenses (CGS 14-222). The commissioner also must suspend the violator's license between 30 and 90 days for a first offense, and at least 90 days for subsequent offenses (CGS 14-111 (b)).

DMV Retraining Program Study

DMV's 2004 review of the retraining program addressed some of the issues discussed above.

Among other things, DMV recommended:

1. discarding the age distinction for program participants, for example requiring all drivers who commit three violations to take the program;

2. expanding the program from four hours to an eight-hour course taught in two sessions;

3. obtaining statutory authority to suspend the license of drivers who continue to offend; and

4. suggesting that the legislature consider enacting an habitual traffic offender law to “effectively sanction” persistent violators.

(Habitual traffic offender laws target drivers who accumulate a significant number of traffic violations in a specific time period. Florida, Massachusetts and Wisconsin have such laws. For example, Florida suspends the license of these offenders for five years. After one year, the offender may petition the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for reinstatement on a restricted basis.)

In discussing the suspension option, DMV recommended a:

1. 30-day suspension for a driver who commits a retraining program-related moving or suspension violation within one year of having completed the retraining program; and

2. 60-day suspension for a driver who receives an additional required conviction within one year of having his or her license restored for a previous retraining program-related 30-day suspension.

LICENSE SUSPENSION IN MASSACHUSETTS, NEW JERSEY, AND NEW YORK

Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York each has a point assessment system that could result in license suspension. Massachusetts and New Jersey also have driver retraining programs. New York and New Jersey also require drivers who accumulate a specific number of points in a specified time to pay additional fees. (As with Connecticut, we do not discuss violations of laws in these states that, by themselves, require or allow suspension, such as driving under the influence.)

Massachusetts

According to the Massachusetts Driver's Manual (http://www.mass.gov/rmv/dmanual/chapter2.pdf) Massachusetts law calls for an automatic 30-day license suspension if a driver is convicted of three speeding violations in 12 months.

Massachusetts drivers who commit five of what the state Registry of Motor Vehicles calls “surchargeable events” in three years receive a letter directing the driver to attend a driving retraining course. A surchargeable event is a motor vehicle violation or accident in which the driver is at fault. If the driver does not complete the course in 90 days, the registry suspends his or her license until he or she completes the

course. Drivers who have taken the course in the previous three years are exempt. (The Massachusetts course, like Connecticut's, is provided by the National Safety Council. The Massachusetts consists of either two four-hour sessions or one eight-hour session).

Seven surchargeable events in three years calls for an automatic 60-day license suspension. A habitual traffic offender (someone who commits three major moving violations or any combination of 12 major and minor moving violations in five years) faces a mandatory four-year suspension. Major moving violations include driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident.

In addition to automatic license suspension, the motor vehicles registrar may suspend or revoke a license (1) if he determines that allowing a driver to continue driving poses an immediate threat to public safety, (2) if a hearing determines the driver operated a vehicle improperly, or (3) for using a fake ID or license.

New Jersey

New Jersey adds points to a motorist's record after conviction of a moving violation (http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/Licenses/Driver%20Manual/Chapter_7.pdf). Motorists who accumulate between 12 and 14 points in a 24-month period will receive a notice of scheduled suspension by mail from the state Motor Vehicle Commission. Upon receiving the notice, a motorist can (1) attend a New Jersey Driver Improvement Program, (2) request a hearing, or (3) surrender his or her license for the suspension period.

The commission's chief administrator or an administrative law judge determine if driving privileges should be suspended for a motorist who is granted a hearing. A driver who successfully completes a Driver Improvement Program will have three points removed from his or her record. After completion of the program or after restoration of a motorist's driving privilege, the driver is on a one-year probationary period. Any violations that occur during this time result in a suspension of the motorist's driving privileges.

Table 1, below, gives some examples of violations and the number of points each is assessed.

Table 1: New Jersey Point System

Violation

Points

Racing on a Highway

5

Driving in an Unsafe Manner

4 (only assessed for 3rd or subsequent violation in five years)

Exceeding maximum speed by 1 to 14 mph

2

Exceeding maximum speed by 15-29 mph

4

Exceeding maximum speed by 30 mph or more

5

Improper Passing in No Passing Zone

4

Failure to Observe Stop or Yield Sign

2

Improper Passing of Frozen Dessert Truck

4

Source: New Jersey Driver's Manual (http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/Licenses/Driver%20Manual/Chapter_7.pdf).

New York

New York's point system identifies “persistent violators” – drivers who commit a series of motor vehicle violations in a relatively short time. The accumulation of 11 or more points in 18 months triggers notice that a driver's license will be suspended. The driver may request a hearing. Drivers may reduce their point total by up to four points by taking a DMV approved accident prevention course. Table 2, below, lists some moving violations and the number of points at which each is assessed (http://www.nydmv.state.ny.us/broch/c-12.pdf.)

Table 2: New York Motor Vehicle Violations

Violation

Points

Speeding (mph not specified)

3

Speeding (mph over posted limit)

 

1 -10

3

11-20

4

21 - 30

6

31 to 40

8

More than 40

11

Reckless driving

5

Source: New York DMV Website: http://www.nydmv.state.ny.us/broch/c-12.pdf

New York also revokes a driver's license for six months if a driver commits three speeding or misdemeanor traffic violations in 18 months. (In New York, a revocation cancels a license or privilege to drive. The drive must re-apply for a new license after the revocation period ends.)

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