More than 200,000 people might be driving illegally in Colorado, and such drivers were involved in crashes that caused nearly one-fourth of all state traffic deaths last year, state auditors reported last week. State legislators requested the audit after Francis Hernandez, an unlicensed driver unlawfully in the United States, was accused of speeding through traffic, hitting another vehicle and killing three people in Aurora, including a 3-year-old in an ice cream shop, in September 2008.
In 2008, the auditors reported, only seven states had a higher percentage of fatal crashes involving drivers who lacked valid licenses. Fourteen percent of all drivers involved in fatal Colorado traffic accidents were “problem drivers” like Hernandez — either unlicensed or driving with a revoked or suspended license.
Hernandez was both. Not only did he lack a valid license, the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles had also revoked his right to drive.
Statewide, 548 people died in traffic crashes last year. The auditors reported that drivers without valid licenses were involved in crashes that killed 130, or 24 percent of all deaths.
One of the major problems is that as many as three-fourths of drivers whose licenses are suspended or revoked keep driving. Division of Motor Vehicles records show that since 1992, 2,620 drivers have been convicted of driving under restraint in Colorado at least five times.
Hernandez, who was 23 at the time of the Aurora crash, had been jailed eight times for prior traffic offenses and misdemeanors. However, the felony charge can be invoked only after three major traffic violations, such as drunken driving, in seven years, followed by another arrest for another major violation.
The auditors did not prescribe a plan to keep problem drivers off the road. They did list a range of strategies used in other states, from impounding vehicles or license plates to putting special stickers on cars that have been driven by people without valid licenses.
“House arrest” by electronic monitoring was noted by the report as one means of controlling problem drivers without driving up jail costs.
On the bright side, Colorado has succeeded in reducing traffic deaths in recent years. From 2000 to 2007, Colorado’s traffic fatality rate improved from 29th best in the nation to 13th