New laws will ease some driving restrictions

Wolfe

During the 2018 legislative session, the Iowa General Assembly passed a few bills that will have an impact on at least some Iowa drivers, effective July 1.

House File 2338 amends current law in two major ways:

1. If an Iowa driver subject to an OWI-related license revocation (a 321J violation) has proof of valid insurance coverage and an approved interlock ignition device installed in her vehicle, she will be able to obtain a temporary restricted license (a TRL) right away – i.e., no more “hard suspension” waiting period, and

2. She’ll be able to legally drive wherever and whenever she could legally drive under a “normal” driver’s license – i.e., all the current restrictions on where and when a person with a TRL can drive are eliminated.

Currently, a temporary restricted license is only valid to drive to/from a job, medical appointments, and a few other specific locations. Thus, many people whose licenses are revoked due to a 321J violation (which revocation can last from between six months to six years) don’t get a temporary restricted license, either because they don’t qualify for a TRL (e.g., no job), or because they decide a TRL that only allows them to drive to and from work and a few other places isn’t worth the expense (about $100 a month minimum for the IID/insurance coverage). Unfortunately, a lot of these people continue to drive anyhow, which means they’re driving illegally, with no insurance, and in a vehicle that doesn’t have an interlock ignition device installed (and thus might be driving while under the influence).

But now that drivers subject to a 321J revocation will be able to legally drive anywhere/anytime with a TRL, a lot more of these drivers will get a TRL and, to do that, they’ll be required to have valid insurance and an interlock ignition device installed in their vehicle. An interlock ignition device prevents a vehicle from starting unless and until the driver provides a breath sample indicating his/her alcohol content is under .02 percent; and starting in January, all IIDs will be required to capture a photo of the person providing the breath sample so as to ensure that the person driving the car is the person who provided the breath sample. Ultimately, if a lot more people obtain temporary restricted licenses (and thus are driving with insurance, in a vehicle equipped with an IID) that means that there will be a lot fewer illegal, uninsured, potentially intoxicated drivers on Iowa’s roads, which means Iowa’s roads will be safer for everyone.

Other states that have enacted similar legislation have experienced a reduction in arrests for driving while revoked and driving while intoxicated, as well as a reduction in alcohol-related car accidents. That’s the primary reason why there was no registered opposition to House File 2338, and why the bill’s registered supporters included the Iowa Sheriffs and Deputies Association, the Iowa Peace Officers Association, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Note that if you are currently under a 321J revocation and have a TRL with restrictions on where and when you can drive, that TRL won’t automatically turn into an “unrestricted” TRL on July 1 – you’ll need to contact your local DOT and make arrangement to obtain a new temporary restricted license (which will include providing proof that you have insurance coverage and an IID installed in your vehicle).

The legislature also passed another (in my opinion) common sense piece of legislation involving drivers licenses this session. Back in 1991, as part of the whole “war on drugs” initiative, the federal government threatened to withhold a portion of federal highway funds from any state that refused to suspend the driver’s licenses of citizens convicted of any level of drug offense. Like most states, Iowa fell in line, and thus under current law, an Iowan convicted of a drug offense loses her Iowa license for six months. However, Iowa has now joined the large majority of states that have taken advantage of an “opt out” provision in the federal law by voting to repeal the drug conviction license suspension, and as of July 1, while driving under the influence of drugs will remain a crime, Iowans whose drug convictions are not related to driving will not lose their licenses (and Iowans who are currently serving a six-month drug conviction license suspension should receive notice from the DOT that their driving privileges have been restored – if you don’t, then check with the DOT).

Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, represents District 98 in the Iowa House of Representatives.