THE BLOG
09/12/2011 06:11 pm ET Updated Nov 11, 2011

Your Driver's License: Don't Come Home Without It

There are many pitfalls in holding a driver's license, that can cause untold grief and expense, but can be easily overlooked. A license to drive is considered a privilege, not a right, albeit a necessity. It can be very fragile, and requires the same eternal vigilance as other forms of liberty.

Anytime you move, even out of state, or out of the country, notify the originating state motor vehicle or transportation department that issued your license of the change. To be on the safe side, notify every state where you ever held a valid license.

The reason for this is simple, sometimes tickets are forgotten about, or because someone who shouldn't do so, is using your name and if they are doing this, it can cause untold trouble. You will never know if the court or Motor Vehicle Department doesn't know where or how to find you.

If a ticket is issued, and you never get wind of the accusation or alleged violation, a court hearing may be scheduled, that AGAIN you will not know of, and your driving privilege can be suspended in that jurisdiction without your knowing until you TRY to apply for, or renew your license in the current state of residence. Many times, the impeding infraction can escape detection for a sustained period of time, and you may be able to renew or obtain the desired license in one attempt but not the next. It can be as simple as an expired registration or inspection sticker, but whether you miss your hearing for anything that simple, or a much worse offense, the quicksand is just as deep.

If you miss a hearing, a warrant can be issued for your arrest. It is a helpless feeling for someone facing detention when they do not even know their name has been linked to an offense that has been committed of which they have no knowledge. It can also affect the ability to obtain car insurance or rates can climb until and unless the mistake is remedied.

Many people sell vehicles and forget to return the tags to Motor Vehicles or to change the registration with the state... The plate may be affixed to a vehicle involved in a traffic accident or a criminal offense, and the registered driver finds himself with a lot of explaining to do. Make sure there is a transfer of title and surrender of tags whenever a vehicle transaction takes place.

If you are unfortunate enough to receive a citation, don't delude yourself into thinking it will simply disappear. Many a motorist has found themselves losing their license because they chose to ignore such a ticket. Or even worse, an arrest warrant might be issued. Courts will report a failure to respond to a ticket to the state motor vehicle agency where the offense occurred. That state department will suspend the license of the driver, and when that operator seeks to renew their driving privileges, they may find they are not able to do so. It takes time and legal fees to remedy this quagmire. Then there is usually an accompanying new citation for driving while suspended, and the vehicle might be impounded.

In short, contact the Court and better yet, have a lawyer do it for you. The costs are not as significant as one might think and far outweighs the costs of the snowball effect that can often ensue. Multiply this by a number of states and tickets, and the results can be catastrophic.

So what should someone do when they are trying to regain the license that has lapsed.? Definitely consult a lawyer who is skilled in this specific area.

Calling the Department of Transportation in the suspending case can often result in very bad advice from the governmental agency and instead of remedying the situation, a well-meaning, repentant motorist, can find themselves in deeper, more complex problem than they were otherwise.

Example: a driver finds that they have been suspended indefinitely for failing to pay old tickets. They are told to just pay the tickets and everything will be all right. They borrow a huge amount of money, or desperate to "clear their name' they rush down to the courts that issued the tickets and pay them. What they don't realize is that in many situations, by paying, they are given a guilty plea on each of the tickets, and many of those citations carry a further suspension. Some states even add several years under a habitual offender provision.

When receiving a ticket , of course, be polite and courteous to the issuing officer. Do not just rush to pay the ticket. The worst thing a defendant can say to themselves is "I just want to get it over with! " That fearful reaction and insecurity can prove very costly and can totally backfire. A guilty plea should not be automatically entered. Ask for a hearing. Sometimes at court, the officer will be willing to downgrade the ticket to a lower or non-point offense. Here is where a lawyer can be of help. The legal fee is offset by the insurance spike that can take place with points that come with the ticket itself. If the officer remembers you as being a polite, compliant driver, there is more inclination to show compassion.

Another problem comes with DUI Related tickets. There are a myriad of scenarios, but just for the sake of exploration, let us assume that a client is serving a suspension for a DUI related offense. Then let us assume that the operator drives and is cited for a non-dui offense. First of all, if there is any suspension on that license, the DUI suspension does not terminate when it was supposed to, and the exposure to mandatory jail time follows the period of non-licensure. There is a national driver's registry which contains any suspension from any state.

One of the problems that motorists encounter is a speeding or other moving violation in a state wherein they do NOT reside. They may be able to downgrade the ticket in the jurisdiction where they were stopped and no points are issued in THAT venue. However, depending on which state issued their license, they may STILL receive points. Many states have special provisions for the effects of an out-of-state traffic violation. The lawyer or the motorist themselves must check with the driver's home state motor vehicle department. Even if no points accrue, the insurance company of the driver may have its own internal scoring system which can assess an underwriting penalty in the amount of their premiums.

If you are stopped for drunk driving, refusing to take a breathalyzer or other chemical test can result in an automatic suspension. Most states have an "implied consent" provision in their motor vehicle laws that attribute to each motorist driving within that state that they agree to take a test when requested. Even if they are later found not guilty of DUI, refusal has separate consequences.

Another dangerous practice is failure to report an accident. If there is personal injury, there can be suspension or even jail time. If you think you hit something, you should investigate...If the neighborhood is unsafe, call the police right away or go to the local police station and advise them.

There is also a trap into which many folks fall where a payment plan has been established for their fines. Often the operator finds him -or herself unable to meet that obligation. Defaulting on the payment plan can result in a suspension in that state or even worse, an arrest warrant. If a payment plan is entered into, try to adhere strictly with the plan, but if there is anticipated difficulty in doing so, let the court know IN WRITING as soon as possible PLUS a phone call. Sometimes, the court will make a new plan or allow a delay. Not calling is playing with fire. Your lawyer can probably help you with this, if the court is hard to reach.

CDL's have special problems. Under more recently enacted Motor Vehicle Carrier legislation, what happens under your personal license can affect the CDL record. Quite frequently, lesser offenses which bore little or no consequence are now considered "serious offenses" under CDL license laws. An accumulation of these offenses within a certain time span can result in the Commercial Driver's disqualification for a sustained period, and an entire livelihood is endangered.

These are just a few of the dangers to a driver's license, and they really have to be observed. Minor inconveniences necessary to adhere to each procedure are small prices as opposed to the catastrophic consequences that can befall the unwary motorist. I could not hope to cover every contingency, but the above should be a good way of avoiding disaster.

I absolutely don't WANT that to happen to you or your loved ones. Stay safe.