New legislation could result in stiffer penalties for individuals who kill or injure someone while driving with a suspended or revoked license.
Sen. Jack Martins is working with Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas on the new legislation, which would create felony charges for individuals who drive with a suspended or revoked license. These drivers would face up to four years in prison if they seriously injure someone and up to seven years in prison if they take someone’s life. Currently, people driving with suspended or revoked licenses who kill or injure someone face only misdemeanor charges carrying a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail.
“Driving is a privilege, not a right. Cars become weapons when bad drivers are behind the wheel,” Martins said. “That someone whose driving privileges were taken away can go on the road illegally, kill or injure someone, and only face a misdemeanor charge is unacceptable. Law enforcement must be able to bring felony charges against unlicensed drivers who kill or injure others.”
The legislation is also being sponsored by Assemblymembers Todd Kaminsky and Dave McDonough, and the family of Zachary Ranftle, a 12 year old boy who was killed last December by an alleged suspended driver.
“Today we say, ‘enough.’ Innocent people should not have to live in fear of suspended or revoked drivers who should not be on the road. I call upon the legislature to recognize that a suspended or revoked driver who seriously injures or kills should be charged with a felony—not the same misdemeanor charge the driver would have received if they had just been stopped by a police officer,” said Singas.
The legislation comes in response to several recent incidents on Long Island where unlicensed drivers caused tragedies. Last December, Ranftle was killed in Valley Stream by a driver alleged to have been driving with a suspended license. Last month, a driver with a suspended license seriously injured an innocent bystander when he crashed into a Farmingdale restaurant after allegedly fleeing the scene of an accident.
For one Carle Place mother, this proposed legislation hits close to home. Pennie Fay lost her 19-year-old son Stephen in 2012, after the motorcycle he was driving was hit by a box truck driver operating with a suspended New York state license. The driver involved was charged with a misdemeanor and went to jail for 16 days.
Since then, she has been working to get “Stephen’s Law” enacted in each state. The law is similar to the one Martins is sponsoring and pushes to charge any person involved with a motor vehicle accident while operating with a suspended or no license, with a felony, in lieu of a misdemeanor.
“I believe in personal responsibility,” Fay said. “It’s like having a gun. If you’re not supposed to be driving, the moment you put an ignition key in, you have now loaded your weapon. The second you turn the ignition you’ve removed the safety. And when you put that gear out of park you have put your finger on the trigger, it’s a weapon.”
Fay is also hoping to get a national DMV database established. This will allow DMV offices to see if a person has their license suspended in another state. When people renew or apply for a license, they will also have to provide information such what insurance company they’re with.
“The accountability will be on the DMV. It takes a lot to get a suspended license,” Fay said. “It’s accountability, not only for citizens and the DMV and the insurance company, but as a national security issue.”
Find out more about the Stephen Joseph Fay Foundation at www.stephensfund.org.