Maryland lawmaker wants to get tough with unlicensed drivers

| 1/5/2006

A Maryland state legislator is working on a bill that would create stiffer penalties for driving without a license.

Delegate Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, said the number of people in the state driving without a license is a growing problem. Since 2002, the number of unlicensed drivers in Maryland has increased 54 percent, The Associated Press reported.

Under existing state law, unlicensed drivers face a $315 fine but no jail time, even for multiple offenses.

Once lawmakers return to the capitol for the regular session that begins Jan. 11, Simmons said he would introduce a measure that would require people charged with driving without a license to appear in court and face penalties that would include 90 days in jail for a first offense. A second offense could result in up to a year behind bars.

Supporters said the bill is intended to address a public safety hazard and would not target any one group. But opponents said the legislation would harm illegal immigrants.

Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland, an immigrants’ rights organization, said illegal immigrants likely account for a significant part of the increase in unlicensed drivers in the state.

“Regardless of whether they have driver’s licenses, it is how people take their kids to school or go to work. That is the reality,” he told The AP.