Monday, July 26, 2010
Court Closes Traffic School Loophole for Commercial Drivers
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal has closed a loophole that allowed commercially licensed drivers to temporarily surrender their licenses in order to get around federal law barring them from attending traffic school in lieu of entry of judgment on a traffic violation.
The court said Thursday that state law allowing drivers who do not hold a commercial license to move to complete traffic school as a diversionary program applies to the time of the violation, even though the statute is worded in the present tense.
Writing for the court, Justice Cole Blease explained that reading Vehicle Code Sec. 42005 to apply to the time the motion is made could allow commercial drivers to evade a federal scheme intended to document every commercial traffic violation by surrendering their license before requesting traffic school and then later reacquiring it.
Sec. 42005(c) prohibits a person who “holds a…commercial class C driver’s license” from attending traffic school in lieu of entry of judgment on a violation. The Legislature indicated when enacting the bar that it was intended to conform with federal law.
Federal regulations prohibit a state from masking a commercial driver’s conviction of a violation from appearing as part of the Commercial Driver’s License Information System, which keeps a record of each commercial driver nationwide. The system is intended to reduce truck and bus accidents by limiting a commercial driver to a single commercial license.
Brittaney Meyer moved to go to traffic school after she pleaded no contest to driving 80 miles per hour on State Route 113, which had a posted speed limit of 65 miles per hour. Meyer testified that she had not used the commercial license in four years, was unaware that it was still valid because she had not completed a physical exam “in some time,” had never driven a large commercial vehicle and did not intend to do so “in the foreseeable future.”
Yolo Superior Court Referee David W. Reed denied the request. He reasoned that Meyer had held a commercial license at the time of the violation, even though she had surrendered it before the motion and held only a noncommercial class C license at that time.
Meyer sought review by the Superior Court’s Appellate Division, and it reversed. Relying on Sec. 42005(c)’s use of the term “holds,” the division concluded that the statute more plainly than ambiguously referred to the time the motion was made, not the time of the violation.
The division acknowledged that the ruling made it possible for commercial drivers to evade the record-keeping purpose of federal law, but concluded that “the maze of requirements applicable to obtaining a commercial driver’s license” made it unlikely that commercial drivers could “easily manipulate” the process.
The Court of Appeal, however, agreed with the trial court and reversed.
“The parties have not presented a factual or legal showing that there is an administrative mechanism in place designed to prevent a gaming of the system through surrender of a commercial license after a violation and its reacquisition after completion of traffic school, or that a commercial driver could not operate a vehicle without a license during this period.
“Therefore, the question is not whether it is cumbersome—and thus unlikely—that a commercial driver would resort to subterfuge to prevent a violation from appearing in the CDLIS, or that some commercially licensed drivers might permanently surrender their commercial licenses. It is nevertheless a possibility.
“Given that the ‘worst of the worst’ would be the ones most likely or highly motivated to cheat, it would not further the federal legislative purpose to leave a loophole such as this in place.”
Justices Vance Raye and Harry Hull joined Blease in his opinion.
The case is People v. Meyer, 10 S.O.S. 4215.
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