Suspended license? Can’t drive on public or private roads

Q: Is it legal to drive on private property if I have a suspended license?

A: A few weeks ago, NASCAR driver Kyle Busch got his license suspended after driving 128 mph in a 45-mph zone. Yes, that’s almost triple the speed limit. Normally speeding won’t get you a license suspension, but those kinds of speeds move things into reckless driving territory, and that’s what got him a suspension. That 45-day license suspension didn’t stop Busch from driving (and placing seventh) in a NASCAR race in Florida three days later.

In both North Carolina and Florida, the suspended driving laws prohibit a person from driving on state highways. So far, there are no NASCAR tracks that double as public highways, although some states (Texas) are pushing their top speed limits into racing territory.

In contrast, Washington’s law states, “It is unlawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle in this state while that person is in a suspended or revoked status.” Did you catch the difference? The North Carolina and Florida laws prohibit driving on state highways, while Washington prohibits driving in the state.

That includes private property. Washington’s suspended driving laws apply to both public roads and private property. That’s different than most of Washington’s traffic laws, which only apply on public roads. But the law identifies some violations that it deems serious enough to prohibit statewide, including on private property.

Along with driving with a suspended or revoked license, the list covers vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, impaired driving, physical control of a vehicle while impaired, reckless driving and negligent driving.

If you happen to have your own 100 acres, I doubt that law enforcement would have any concerns about you driving around on your own land with a suspended driver’s license. The reason those traffic laws I mentioned apply throughout the state is because we have a lot of shared private space where we drive. Most parking lots are private property, and some roads in neighborhoods are privately owned.

The ring road around your local shopping mall is likely a private road open to the public. You’re not likely to see much proactive traffic enforcement on private property, but when there is a collision, the investigating officer would certainly be interested in your driving status. Also, other than the example of your own private track, if you’re driving suspended on private property, you most likely drove on a public road to get there.

You might wonder what the big deal is about driving suspended if the driver isn’t doing anything else wrong. Crash data shows that suspended drivers are high-risk drivers. Three percent of drivers in Washington have a suspended or revoked license, but drivers with a suspended or revoked license are involved in 9% of fatal crashes in our state. When drivers are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash, I’m supportive of a law that prohibits them driving near other people and vehicles, on roads public and private.

Doug Dahl writes a weekly column for this newspaper. He is with the state Traffic Safety Commission.