Erik Burgess, Published August 24 2013
Revoking drivers licenses hinges on danger
Police had warned Gary Constans, 59, of Prairie, Minn., several times to drive faster before the courts finally took away his license. The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the revocation last week.
Area police say warnings are handed out far more often than citations when it comes to driving too slow – what’s called “impeding traffic” in police jargon, said Mike Reitan, assistant police chief in West Fargo.
“I think this guy over in Minnesota was kind of a unique situation,” Reitan said, adding that he’s issued a citation for impeding traffic maybe three times in his whole career.
It all comes down to public safety, Reitan and his counterparts in Fargo and Moorhead agreed. If a person is driving too slow and also endangering themselves or others, police can pull them over.
“I think you gotta articulate: Does this person going down the road present a hazard? That’s how I’m going to look at it,” said Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol.
If a person were to be cited for impeding traffic in North Dakota, it’d be a $20 fine, Reitan said. Driving without due care, or reckless driving, would be $30.
Fines are much higher in Minnesota. Impeding traffic in Minnesota would be a $135 ticket, which includes a $50 fine, $75 surcharge and $10 law library fee. Driving without due care is a $40 fine, but will cost you a total of $125 with the surcharge and fee.
Officers also find themselves performing welfare checks on wayward drivers more often than issuing tickets, Reitan said.
It’s often not just low speed that will cause police to stop a car, said Lt. Joel Vettel of the Fargo police.
He recalled one example several years ago of an older man who had driven up onto the median and gotten stuck with his wheels no longer touching the road. The man continued driving, spinning his tires, as if he were still moving along, Vettel said.
“He clearly didn’t have the awareness to be driving,” Vettel said.
When it comes to actually revoking a license, state officials handle it, not local police, said Moorhead Police Lt. Tory Jacobson.
“We’ve had family members, say in their 50s, come in and say: ‘My mom or my dad is not safe to drive. We won’t ride with them but they drive. Can you take their license away?’ And we don’t take people’s licenses away,” Jacobson said.
Officers can take that information, but they also have to view the errant driver’s behavior behind the wheel. Then they can forward it to state officials, who can ask for a re-evaluation. Doctors and licensed driving instructors can also make a report, Vettel said.
In North Dakota, reports go to the Department of Transportation, and in Minnesota, they go to the Driver and Vehicle Services division of the Department of Public Safety.
What exactly does it take for a police officer to either issue a citation or report a driver to the state?
“It’s usually not just one thing in particular,” Grabow said. “It’s do they lack the physical skills to operate a vehicle? Or is there some mental issues? There’s a checklist we have.”
Of course, like with Constans, a license revocation can be appealed.
“It’s tough,” Vettel said of revoking licenses, “because often times you do need to show that person is a danger, and that’s not always clear cut.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518.