Change To Ohio DUI/OVI Law Expands Driving Privileges

Until a few days ago, the scope of driving privileges for Ohio DUI/OVI suspensions was very limited.  A parent on limited driving privileges was not permitted to drive children for extra-curricular activities.  A person on limited driving privileges was not allowed to drive to care for elderly parents.  A person on limited driving privileges could not drive to AA or counseling unless it was court-ordered.  That changed last week, when the state legislature revised Ohio law for limited driving privileges.

Statehouse with Ohio flag

The revised law is Ohio Revised Code section 4510.021.  That section authorizes courts to grant limited driving privileges for driver license suspensions, including DUI/OVI suspensions.  The last time the statute changed was 2004.  Before 2004, the law only provided for occupational driving privileges.  In 2004, the statute was revised to expand driving privileges, authorizing privileges for the following purposes:

•    Occupational, educational, vocational, or medical purposes;
•    Taking the driver’s or commercial driver’s license examination;
•    Attending court-ordered treatment.

The most recent change to the law, in September of 2016, further expands the permissible scope of limited driving privileges.  The statute still lists the purposes above and now adds the catch-all phrase, “Any other purpose the court determines appropriate”.

The expanded scope of limited driving privileges will apply to both types of driver license suspensions associated with DUI/OVI cases.  In these cases, there are typically two suspensions.  First, an Administrative License Suspension is imposed by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles if a person refuses a blood/breath/urine test or tests ‘over the limit’.  Second, a DUI/OVI court suspension is imposed by the judge as part of the sentence if a person is found guilty of OVI.

With this change to the law for limited driving privileges, judges have virtually unlimited discretion regarding the permitted purposes for driving privileges.  Previously, a judge did not have the authority to grant privileges for necessary errands like buying groceries, regardless of a person’s circumstances.  A judge can now take into account a person’s situation and authorize driving for any errands the judge deems appropriate.

The breadth of an individual’s driving privileges will depend, in large part, on the judge assigned to that person’s case.  The possible range of privileges is very broad:  from no driving at all to driving any time for any purpose.  Judges now have complete discretion.  There are many judges in Ohio, and each one will exercise judicial discretion differently when considering driving privileges.  Some judges have a very expansive perspective on driving privileges while others have a very restricted perspective.

In addition to having different perspectives on driving privileges, different courts also have different procedures.  In some courts, obtaining driving privileges is a simple process and takes a matter of minutes.  In other courts, the process is more complicated and may take several weeks.  Unfortunately, the revised law will not expedite the process in the courts which currently make the process unnecessarily complicated.

The change in the law for driving privileges is a good development.  Judges are finally authorized to grant privileges for any appropriate reason and make decisions on a case-by-case basis.  At the same time, judges retain the ability to restrict or deny driving privileges if an individual’s driving poses a demonstrable threat to public safety.