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02-24-2013, 11:19 PM #1
CA - Grieving dad crusades for tougher laws against unlicensed drivers
By Sarah Rohrs/Times-Herald staff writer /
Posted: 02/24/2013 01:01:10 AM PST
Grieving father Don Rosenberg's personal crusade is capturing statewide attention. He wants to convince us all that the man who killed his son is part of a deadly threat as bad as drunk driving or texting behind the wheel.
Two years after an unlicensed driver hit and killed his 25-year-old son Drew in San Francisco, Rosenberg has all but stopped working. He is devoting himself full-time to sounding alarm bells and cracking down on unlicensed drivers.
"The problem is enormous, but no one wants to talk about it," said Rosenberg, a Los Angeles entertainment consultant now contacting lawmakers about enacting tougher, enforcement, punishment and laws to force unlicensed drivers into the back seat.
To him unlicensed drivers are just as dangerous and kill as many people as guns, although it doesn't seem anyone but traffic officers pay the issue much heed, he said. He added that penalties should be increased.
Under state law, driving without a valid license violates California Vehicle Code section 12500 and can be a misdemeanor or an infraction. Driving without a valid license is considered not as serious as driving on a suspended license which is a misdemeanor and can lead to jail time, arrest and impoundment, plus points on the drivers' DMV record.
That's not good enough for Rosenberg.
"Is it going to take an unlicensed driver to run into a school bus and run it off a cliff and kill a lot of children for people to see what a problem this is?" Rosenberg said.
Vallejo Police Department Sgt. Kevin Hamrick said a recent rash of pedestrian or bicycle hit-and-run collisions in town could very well be traced back to unlicensed drivers.
"It's bad," Hamrick said of the problem.
A 2012 California Department of Motor Vehicles report concludes unlicensed drivers are three times more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than those holding licenses. Using 23 years of data, the report concludes that the numbers of unlicensed drivers causing fatal collisions has risen.
"We just wanted to get the information out there so people know it's an issue," DMV department spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said.
Fatalities more likely
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's "Unlicensed to Kill" reports sounds an even louder alarm, saying unlicensed drivers are five times more likely to be behind the wheel in fatal crashes, and nine times more likely to leave the scene.
In addition, the report says half of all unlicensed drivers are likely to have alcohol in their system while driving,
Unlicensed drivers are often lumped into a group of drivers on the road without valid licenses -- including those who drive with suspended or revoked licenses.
But experts say those lacking licenses altogether are more dangerous because they have never received any formal training, nor had to pass any tests.
The actual number of unlicensed drivers in California is unknown because the DMV learns about them only after they are involved in a crash or convicted of a traffic violation.
Rosenberg's son met a tragic end in his encounter with an unlicensed driver. Rosenberg can't save him now, but he wants to protect other drivers.
One such driver could very well be a Vallejo teen who escaped injury after a run-in with an unlicensed driver.
Behind the wheel of her first car for less than a month, Sabrina Bullock, 18, of Vallejo was on Tuolumne Street and turning left onto Solano Avenue when a car shot out of nowhere and smashed into her passenger side.
"I was just sitting there crying and I was really scared," the Vallejo High School senior recalled.
A nearby business security camera tape showed the other driver, a woman, behind the wheel. But, after the crash, the tape showed the woman -- who it was later learned is unlicensed -- switch seats with her passenger who told the family he is licensed.
Bullock considers herself lucky the crash did no more than scare her, damage the car she got for Christmas and likely increase her insurance rates.
Sabrina's mother said more must be done.
"It angers me that the ones who are not criminals and who have nothing to hide and who follow the rules are the ones that seem to be constantly paying the price for those who don't," lifelong Vallejo resident Gina Bullock said.
Rosenberg said he's not surprised by the actions of the unlicensed driver who hit Bullock. Many try to operate under the radar, and often flaunt the law.
A married man with two sons, Rosenberg received the phone call every parent dreads after his son, a second-year law student, was struck and killed by an unlicensed driver in San Francisco on Nov. 16, 2010.
Rosenberg has since lobbied to get his son's story known, written frequently to elected officials, regularly updates his website "http://unlicensedtokill.org" and appears on television and other media outlets talking about the issue. He is working to form a nonprofit organization and wants to launch a movement akin to Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).
He said the dangers of unlicensed drivers are obvious, but the issue isn't met head on because it touches on a delicate, political topic -- undocumented workers living in California and driving without licenses.
A touchy subject
In Rosenberg's son's case, the driver had come to the United States from Honduras, gotten temporary protective status but had not applied for a driver's license, although he was eligible to do so.
Before the fatal crash that killed Drew, officers cited the man for driving without a license, having no insurance and going the wrong way on a one-way street, but he got his impounded car back quickly. He drove regularly until striking Drew, who was on a motorcycle, and running over him several times trying to flee the scene, Rosenberg said.
The driver eventually was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and served six weeks in jail, a sentence Rosenberg called a "joke." Rosenberg has pushed to get him deported, a lengthy process that continues in immigration court proceedings in Arizona.
Rosenberg said driving without a license poses such enormous risks that undocumented residents caught doing so should be deported immediately, as an effective deterrent.
But that outcome isn't likely to be implemented any time soon, federal officials said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said her department takes no stand on the unlicensed drivers issue.
Kice said driving without a license is not grounds for deportation, but it can become a factor if someone is picked up.
The recent DMV report does not raise the illegal immigrant issue, nor are there any firm numbers on how many undocumented residents lack licenses, officials said.
However, both the DMV report and the AAA Foundation documents have led to cries from two different camps on immigration and drivers licenses. One side calls for tougher enforcement while the other has renewed pleas for illegal immigrants to get licenses so they can get training.
Some contend immigrants should be able to get licenses, regardless of citizenship status. That's because licensed drivers learn the rules of the roads in California and have passed tests, said Pedro Rios, director of the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee.
"It makes sense that it would translate to fewer accidents leading to fatalities and ultimately I think that's what everyone would want," Rios told the Associated Press. "It certainly would increase the number of drivers who would be insured and increase the ability for people to file claims when that's necessary."
Immigrant advocates, working in favor of laws to restrict impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers, said these motorists need their vehicles to hold down jobs, pick up their children from school and be responsible members of society, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
Threat goes both ways
Better training for all unlicensed drivers is a major concern of California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Parker in Solano County. He said unlicensed drivers may take bigger risks out of fear of being caught, and thus are a danger to themselves and others.
But the danger of detection may not be high in some areas.
Police budget cutbacks have made it more difficult to catch unlicensed drivers and may lead some to drive with little fear of punishment, Vallejo's Sgt. Hamrick said.
The VPD has a zero tolerance policy against unlicensed drivers, Hamrick said. When fully staffed in 2005-06, officers were able to impound up to 2,000 cars annually of unlicensed drivers, including many repeat offenders, he added.
But funding cuts have led to fewer officers able to conduct enforcement, plus a huge decline in citations, arrests and the impounding of cars, Hamrick said.
What's worse for Rosenberg are state laws making it easier for unlicensed drivers to retrieve their impounded cars.
For instance, a 2012 law forbids officers from impounding vehicles of unlicensed drivers stopped at DUI checkpoints unless the motorists are impaired or have other criminal issues. The drivers are detained, but officers must give them a chance to contact a friend who can drive the car from the checkpoint.
Proponents of the law said impounding cars benefits only towing companies and hurts average workers who can't afford to get their vehicles. The 2012 law received strong backing from immigration groups.
Legislation introduced this month would bar police from impounding and holding vehicles for 30 days, not just at DUI checkpoints but in other settings as well. Assembly Bill 335 would allow drivers to get their cars back if they can be parked legally or released to a licensed driver.
For his part, Rosenberg says his crusade will continue despite such laws as AB 335.
"If someone had done what I'm doing my son might be alive," Rosenberg said of his efforts. "I can't bring him back. He's gone. I just don't want to this rate of death to continue."
"Every single day you hear reports (of crashes involving unlicensed drivers) and every day it's somebody's kid," he said.
Unlicensed drivers by the numbers:
* 3: California Department of Motor Vehicles 2012 report estimates unlicensed drivers three times more likely to cause fatal accidents.
* 5: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's "Unlicensed to Kill" report says these drivers are five times more likely to kill someone behind the wheel.
* 9: Unlicensed drivers nine times more likely to flee a fatal crash scene.
* 20: Of all U.S. fatal crashes, nearly 20 percent involved an unlicensed driver, resulting in deaths of 21,049 people between 2007-2009.
* 50: An estimated 50 percent of unlicensed or invalidly licensed drivers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their systems.
* $646: The amount of fine and impoundment fees if caught driving without a license in Solano County.
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02-25-2013, 06:47 PM #2
- Join Date
- Dec 2011
- Harrisonburg VA
"Under state law, driving without a valid license violates California Vehicle Code section 12500 and can be a misdemeanor or an infraction. Driving without a valid license is considered not as serious as driving on a suspended license which is a misdemeanor and can lead to jail time, arrest and impoundment, plus points on the drivers' DMV record."
We have the same problem in Virginia. My daughter was hit by an Illegal Alien driving an SUV without a liscence. According to the police officer that was on the scene she was going more than 50-60 mph when she hit my daughter. She left 25 foot skidmarks after the point of impact. This was on a narow one way street with a 25mph speed limit. Thank God that she survived with only a shatterd pelvise. The illegal got away with a slap on the wrist. The officer said that this was not the first time she was caught driving without a liscence.