Oregon Taking Away Licenses for Out-of-State Suspensions

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

DAVE HOGAN

SALEM — Closing a longtime loophole in drunken-driving enforcement,
state officials have started taking away Oregonians’ drivers licenses if
their licenses are suspended in other states for failing a sobriety test
or refusing to take one.

Oregon’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services suspended 15 drivers’
licenses last week, the first week of the new enforcement.

Dozens of times a month, other states take away Oregonians’ licenses
because they’re suspected of driving drunk and they refuse to take a
sobriety test, or fail one. But until Jan. 31, the DMV didn’t enforce the
out-of-state suspensions unless they were court-ordered.

After a federal audit called the lack of enforcement a problem, state
officials began to make the computer coding changes and other
arrangements needed to enforce out-of-state suspensions.

The new enforcement kicks in when the DMV is notified that another
state has suspended an Oregonian’s license to drive. The driver loses his
or her license until the out-of-state suspension has ended and they’ve
cleared requirements for reinstatement, including fees.

“We are imposing an indefinite suspension,” said Mary Garcia, the
DMV’s driver control program coordinator. “These people will be suspended
until they can provide clearance from the other state.”

The change eliminates a longtime inconsistency in licensing.

Drivers who fail sobriety tests in Oregon lose their licenses for 90
days for the first failure, and for a year for a second failure.

Drivers who refuse a sobriety test in Oregon automatically lose their
license for a year, and a refusal in a second case results in a
three-year suspension. In 2003, more than 12,000 Oregon drivers had their
licenses suspended for refusing a test.

Since 1983, state law also has allowed the DMV to take away the
licenses of Oregon drivers who refuse sobriety tests in other states.
Most of the out-of-state suspensions occur in Washington.

But if their out-of-state suspension went no further than a diversion
program and did not result in a criminal conviction, Oregon drivers were
able to keep driving at home. Until now.

The change can be traced to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety
Administration review of Oregon’s commercial driver licensing in 2001.
The DMV then told the federal agency it would begin enforcing
out-of-state suspensions in early 2004.

But DMV administrator Lorna Youngs later said the plan would be
delayed until this year because of other information technology projects
“and our limited resources.”

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