INDIANAPOLIS — Legislators and experts are reassessing Indiana laws created decades ago to keep us all safe behind the wheel, potentially allowing thousands of people to get their driver’s licenses back.
According to Chris Daniels, with the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, data compiled earlier this year showed that more than 6% of the state’s population, around 440,000 people, could not drive legally due to a suspended license. The vast majority of those suspensions were due to administrative issues, like a cycle of fines that can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars.
“You’re talking about close to 75% to 80% of the people suspended in the state were suspended for administrative financial reasons,” Daniels said.
Last year, a law went into effect that was supposed to help by allowing people to petition a court to cut their outstanding fees in half. The law only applied in 2020, but was renewed as part of a recent bill to restart July 1.
CBS4 requested data from Indiana’s court system and found that not many people took advantage of the law. The data showed around 4,300 petitions for traffic amnesty filed in 2020. Almost all of those, more than 4,000, were filed in Marion County, which could represent as few as 5% of the county’s total suspensions.
“It wasn’t as well known as we would’ve liked it to have been,” Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said.
Mears’ office started its own second chance program to help people untangle their complicated driving records and get licenses back. Their next workshop, which takes place in late June, filled its 375 spots in only 48 hours.
“It’s really difficult to figure out okay, number one why was I suspended and what can I do to work through the suspension process,” Mears said. “We’re taking so many people out of the workforce because they don’t have a driver’s license, which precludes them from employment.”
Daniels, who serves as the state’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor, worked with legislators on a new law, under House Bill 1199, which will add even more ways for Hoosiers to drive valid. On January 1, many suspended drivers will be able to have suspensions stayed by simply paying for and keeping insurance.
Daniels said he believes the new law will be more effective at cutting down on suspensions in the first place, plus ensuring more people driving on Indiana’s roads are doing so at less risk to their fellow drivers, since much of the law will shift the focus to empowering insured drivers.
“We have a lot of people who otherwise are law-abiding citizens, who want to follow the law, who want to do what they’re supposed to do but simply can’t afford to, and that’s not what the law was ever designed to do,” Daniels said.
CBS4 contacted a sampling of people who filed petitions for traffic amnesty and found several who said they were able to get their licenses back after a judge cut their fees in half.
For more information about the traffic amnesty petition, which will be accepted in courts again beginning July 1, contact your county court clerk or go to the Marion County link here.
For more information about Marion County’s second chance program, along with other Project Valid programs focused on helping suspended drivers, go to the link here.