A lot of things will get your driver’s license suspended, canceled, revoked or refused here in Arizona. Not paying child support, getting too many tickets, not paying tickets, numerous things involving DUI short of an actual conviction, and convictions for various felonies and misdemeanors will all prevent you from driving.
In Arizona, it’s practically impossible to get by without driving. Public transportation is generally inadequate in urban areas, and in rural areas, it’s basically non-existent. Cabs are very expensive. Most people I know who take advantage of buses or the light rail still have to drive a few miles to get to a park and ride. My clients who can’t drive are severely limited in where they can live and work.
Not having a car leads to many of my clients getting into more trouble. Those who drive anyway often find themselves with new misdemeanor charges when they’re caught. If they’ve been drinking, what would be a misdemeanor DUI becomes a felony DUI. The jail time turns to prison time, and they have to do 120 times as much of it. Plenty of stops and searches incident to arrest that resulted in new charges would have never happened if the driver’s license hadn’t been suspended.
I’ve had clients who picked up serious drug charges after getting rides with friends who ended up having drugs in the car. I’ve also had clients who said they committed crimes because the person who gave them rides called in a favor. The most common excuse I hear for people failing to check in while on probation or missing court dates is that they couldn’t get a ride. Judges, prosecutors, and probation officers usually show no sympathy.
No one is less sympathetic than Arizona’s Supreme Court. You see, Arizona courts do not recognize driving as a right. To them, it’s a “privilege.” They claim to recognize that not driving hurts those who must drive for a living, but they seem to think that matters only for particular occupations or fields. They don’t think the potential loss of the driving privilege is a grave or serious consequence. That’s why a license suspension isn’t enough to support a right to trial by jury.
Unless the justices make a lot more than I think they do, I doubt they’re getting chauffeured everywhere in limousines. I’d love for them to go without driving for three months and say loss of license isn’t a grave or serious consequence. They’d have to tell their friends and family they aren’t allowed to drive. They’d have to walk back from the grocery store laden with bags or bother everyone they know for rides. People would have to accommodate their lack of transportation. Maybe then, things might change
Insensitivity isn’t the only problem with how Arizona courts view driving. I find the very use of the word “privilege” repulsive. It sounds as if we’re small, helpless children who should be grateful for every little scrap of autonomy the state decides to grant us.
As an American, I’m proud to have rights, not privileges. The word privilege isn’t anywhere in the Bill of Rights, and the founders declared that I am endowed with unalienable rights, not granted alienable privileges. In much of this country (and most if not all of Arizona), driving is often necessary in order to make a living, raise a family, and have a decent quality of life. I shouldn’t have to rely on big brother to give me permission to do something necessary to live my life in a normal, reasonable manner. I’m ashamed Arizona uses the word privilege in its constitution and statutes. It sends the wrong message, telling us someone has to give us our freedom.
To the government, it doesn’t matter how essential something may be to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If the government wants to regulate it, that’s what the government is going to do. In most cases, all it takes is a name change.
Relabeling and over-regulating something as important as driving frightens me. Reproduction, marriage, and plenty of other essential rights aren’t enumerated. Although it would probably love to do it, Arizona can’t relabel them privileges because courts have decided they’re important enough to be off-limits.
I’m not thankful for that because I shouldn’t be. Instead, I’m angry that I have to hope judges think something is important before I’m allowed to exercise my right to it. It’s a sad state of affairs, and I can’t think of any area where the judges more plainly and disturbingly ignore something essential to modern life than with driving.