A valid driver's license plays a large role in the prosperity of a person and the surrounding community.

The ability to drive enables a person to work in any season, access goods and services, and transport themselves and loved ones to necessary medical outlets. A driver's license serves as a ticket to the American way of life.

A program instituted by the Indiana General Assembly and carried out in local court systems can reconnect many Hoosiers to the benefits of being a licensed driver. The Traffic Amnesty Program allows state residents with suspended driver's licenses or unpaid traffic fines to have such fees cut in half, easing their chances of getting a reinstated license.

Many Hoosiers' lives could be transformed by regaining legal driving status. The program marks a positive step by the Legislature.

As a result, Vigo County residents can seek a 50% reduction for traffic infractions committed before Jan. 1, 2019, or for reinstatement fees for a license suspension that occurred before Jan. 1, 2019. Sidelined drivers must act promptly, though. The Traffic Amnesty Program ends at the end of this year.

Terre Haute City Court Judge Matthew Sheehan, City Clerk Michelle Edwards and county officials are encouraging county residents to take advantage of the program. Its value can be dramatic for many people.

"We have a large number [of residents] in our community who are currently suspended or not licensed and have significant reinstatement fees, fines and court costs. And that presents a very large impediment for them to get back into compliance and get a license so they can drive to and from work or to medical appointments as needed," Sheehan said as the program launched at the start of the new year. "That's a very big problem in our community, in my opinion."

License reinstatement costs hit low-income people particularly hard. Lingering fees can climb into the thousands of dollars. Sometimes, that means choosing between paying traffic fines or filling a prescription or buying groceries, the judge explained. He told the painful story of one woman who had worked to pay off $2,000 in reinstatement and traffic fees, maintained her high-risk insurance and came to court to successfully have a driving-while-suspended charge amended from a misdemeanor to an infraction.

Despite all that, she had also received a notice from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles requiring proof that she was insured at the time of the offense, 18 months earlier. She was not insured, which was partially the reason for her suspension. Instead of a reinstated license, she faces another year of mandatory suspension. The woman left the court in tears.

The program is not meant to put unrepentant, irresponsible drivers back on the road. Its purpose is to lessen the obstacle for low-income people to square their debts to the state through the court system and get a second chance to become a contributing member of the community, with a legal driver's license.

"We do everything we can to hold people accountable," said Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt, "but also assist when they are willing to be responsible citizens."

The door is open for many, thanks to the program. Residents who have lost driving privileges or face hefty fines would be wise to pursue this opportunity.
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