Chicago Safety Responsibility Driver’s License Suspensions
Mandatory Insurance Law in Illinois
Mandatory Insurance is the law in all 50 States. Illinois has its own legislative scheme that addresses not only the traffic offense of driving without valid insurance, but also addresses individuals that do not provide proof of insurance when requested by the Secretary of State’s office. It also addresses motorists that do not furnish proof of insurance to the Illinois Department of Transportation following an automobile accident which results in either personal injury or property damage in excess of $500.00 to vehicles required to be covered by liability insurance but were not, or $1,500.00 to vehicles that are exempt from the liability insurance requirement. Depending upon the type of suspension, there are procedures in place to contest the merits of the suspension at a hearing, or to take steps to terminate the suspension and reinstate driving privileges.
All Drivers Must Have Car Insurance
Whenever anyone is operating a motor vehicle anywhere in the State of Illinois, he or she is required to have in place, and carry proof of, liability insurance for the automobile, or for the driver, or both. If someone is pulled over, and does not have that proof either in the vehicle, or on their person, then the officer will issue a citation under section 3-707 of the Illinois Vehicle Code, which is a "compliance" offense. The only legal defense in court would be that, either the vehicle was covered by a liability policy that did not specifically exclude the driver from coverage, or that the driver possessed a non-owner’s policy or his own comprehensive coverage that would protect him regardless of whose vehicle he may be operating. After a finding of guilt on such a violation, a motorist may receive court supervision only once, and only if that motorist obtained a proper insurance policy after the fact. Otherwise, the court must enter a conviction.
SR22 Requirements After Supervision or Conviction
Following a sentence of court supervision for 3-707, the Clerk’s office sends a notice to the Secretary of State. As an incident of court supervision, the Secretary of State must receive, from the affected motorist, proof of future financial responsibility, known in the industry as "SR-22 Insurance", which is essentially an insurance company certifying that a given motorist is covered by a liability policy. Of course, insurance companies charge a small premium on rates for this type of policy, as the drivers that need it fall under a higher risk category and extra work is involved. A motorist must maintain this SR-22 policy for a period of years, or the Secretary of State will suspend the driving privileges of the motorist, and/or the registration privileges for the owner to register his vehicle as required. This suspension may remain indefinitely until the SR-22 certificate is properly filed and any reinstatement fee due and owing to the Secretary of State is eventually paid. Upon a conviction for 3-707, the Secretary of State shall suspend the motorist’s driving privileges for a period of months, and if a motorist is convicted a second or subsequent time while suspended for a prior, the suspension shall be for an additional period of months. Upon a third or subsequent conviction for 3-707, the Secretary of State shall require multiple years of SR-22 coverage, or an indefinite suspension will be entered.
Secretary of State May Randomly Audit Drivers
One does not have to actually be involved in a traffic violation or accident to run afoul of the mandatory insurance law. The Illinois Secretary of State issues audits to motorists at random, at which time they request the submission of proof of insurance. Failure to comply will result in a suspension, which may be cleared only by the proper presentation of proof, in the form of a certified notice from the insurance carrier that they were in fact covered at the time of the request, or by purchasing and maintaining the SR 22 insurance for the prescribed time period. If one presents proof of prior compliance, then the suspension is rescinded (undone), but if one obtains SR 22 afterwards, then one must pay a reinstatement fee.
Illinois Department of Transportation Monitors Insurance Compliance as Well
The more serious concern involves accidents where, at the time of the collision, there was no insurance in place. Independent of any court action regarding any traffic violations, whenever there is an accident that results in either personal injury to someone, or meets the requisite property damage amounts, the motorist is provided a form known as the SR-1 Motorist Report Form. The form is required to be filled out in full, and sent to the Illinois Department of Transportation in Springfield within 10 days, so that IDOT can determine whether or not you were covered as required by law. The form is used administratively by IDOT and the Secretary of State to aid in the enforcement of this aspect of the Safety Responsibility Law, in that if there is proper proof of insurance provided, regardless of who is at fault for the accident, no further action is taken by IDOT other than to forward a report of the collision to the Secretary of State, who then makes an internal entry for court and/or administrative purposes only indicating your involvement in an accident, without indicating any fault.
Filling out the Motorist Report Form for IDOT
In the cases where there was indeed no insurance coverage, then the portion where you, as the motorist, are allowed to diagram and explain the accident becomes all important. Before any suspension proceedings may begin, IDOT must first determine whether a reasonable possibility exists that, in the event you are sued for the accident, that a civil judgement may be entered against you for any amount involving personal injury, or property damage in excess of the required dollar amount. If IDOT makes the determination of potential civil liability against you, then they will certify your name to the Secretary of State as an uninsured motorist. The Secretary of State will then send you a Notice of Suspension, that will advise you of the date it is to begin, the dollar amount certified as damages (this dollar amount is relevant for purposes of obtaining driving privileges as will be discussed below), as well as all of the various means by which you can head off the suspension, or otherwise terminate the suspension.
Requesting a Formal Hearing to Contest the Suspension
The Notice sent to you by the Secretary of State informs you of the impending suspension date so that you may take action to stop it before it even starts. If you believe that the initial determination of potential civil liability is in error, and you wish to have a Formal Hearing to contest the suspension on that basis, then you should file the written hearing request per the instructions in the notice within the proper number of days from the date of the notice (not the suspension date, but the date the letter was sent). Then the suspension should be stayed pending the outcome of the Formal Hearing. If you prevail, there will be no suspension under the Safety Responsibility Law, but if you lose, you will be suspended until you otherwise come into compliance, as discussed below.
How a Formal Hearing Works
The hearing that is held is "formal," in that there is a designated hearing officer who has the power to administer oaths, rule on objections, and issue a formal decision by mail via the Secretary of State’s office. The proceedings are recorded and later transcribed. There is an attorney representing the Secretary of State’s office, whose job it is to present testimony and evidence that upholds the basis for your suspension, and to cross examine your witnesses, including yourself. Of course, you have the right to confront any witnesses against you through cross examination by your attorney. Anyone who was involved in the accident are deemed "interested parties," and not only may they attend, testify, and have their own attorneys with them at the hearing, they are specifically notified by the Department of Administrative Hearings of your hearing request, and the date, time and location, as well as their attendant rights and duties at said hearing.
Winning the Formal Hearing Does Not Protect You from a Civil Lawsuit
The typical exhibits at these hearings are the crash report, the SR-1 reports from all parties, photographs, repair estimates or bills, hospital bills, and the like. The hearing officer never renders a decision right then and there. The matter is "taken under advisement," which means that the officer will review everything, and write out a decision, which is then reviewed by a panel of three others in Springfield, who will then issue the formal decision by mail. Note: winning at this hearing merely reinstates your driving privileges, it does not affect any civil action that may be brought against you by interested parties, and if a civil judgement is entered against you, you will be responsible for paying that judgement. Failure to pay an unsatisfied civil judgement on an automobile accident will result in a different indefinite suspension based upon that unsatisfied judgement.
How to Stop the Suspension without a Formal Hearing
If you have no intention of requesting a hearing to contest the suspension, you may still be able to stop the suspension by satisfying financial compliance before the effective date of the suspension. There are a number of ways that this may be accomplished. The most direct way is, if you are able to do so, reach a complete satisfaction of any and all claims against you by the interested party or parties, by paying them an agreed sum of money, and filing the release and satisfaction with the Secretary of State’s office. You can also enter into an installment agreement, and serve that upon the Secretary of State in advance of the suspension date (just keep making all of your payments until the end). Sometimes, one can obtain a "covenant not to sue" from the other side. Also, if you are able to obtain a discharge of debt in Bankruptcy Court that includes any claims from the accident, in advance of the suspension, filing of the documents from that case will freeze any suspension proceeding.
Posting a Bond with the Secretary of State
The best way to head off the suspension, if you are able to do so, is to post a "bond" with the Secretary of State for the amount of the damages certified in the notice of suspension. You will then be permitted to continue driving, as the suspension is stayed. If, after two years from the effective date of the suspension, no lawsuit was filed against you, no civil judgement was rendered, and no action is pending in civil court, you may file an Affidavit for Termination. Not only will the suspension proceedings then terminate, but you will also get back every dime you posted for bond. If a lawsuit happens to be filed however, those funds may be used to facilitate a settlement of claims, or to satisfy a judgement.
If you are unable to take preventative action, then the suspension will remain in full force and effect until you come into compliance in one of the ways discussed above, or successfully contest the suspension at a hearing (yes, one can have a hearing even after the suspension takes effect). A further note: the decision following a hearing is subject to review under the Administrative Review Act, by either side. If you lose the hearing, you may file an appeal in the Chancery Division of the Circuit Court of Venue. Of course, if you win, so may the Secretary of State’s office. You do not get to have a second or subsequent formal hearing, but if not appealed, the decision becomes the "law of the case."
Speak with a Driver’s License Defense Attorney
If you have been involved in a traffic accident, or are otherwise facing criminal, traffic, or administrative sanctions, then you need knowledgeable, experienced attorneys to carry the fight for you. Call us at Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC, (800) 996-4824 to schedule a free, no obligation, confidential, consultation with one of our lawyers at any of our offices including our Arlington Heights or Chicago offices. Call today.