HAMPTON — In the wake of a crash that left two bicyclists dead, local lawmakers are looking to put more teeth into a state law regulating drivers caught behind the wheel with no license.
State Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, is filing legislation that would make driving without a valid license an arrestable offense.
Current state law allows police to arrest drivers only if they're found driving after their license has been suspended or revoked.
Those who have no license can be cited for a violation-level offense, but authorities said they can't be arrested.
Under the proposed legislation, driving without a license would become a misdemeanor, giving police the power to make an arrest. The effort comes after 19-year-old Darriean Hess of Seabrook was stopped for speeding in the early morning hours of Sept. 21 in Hampton. Police said she's never had a license, but they weren't able to arrest her so she was cited and released to a friend. She is accused of getting back behind the wheel several hours later and striking a group of bicyclists on Route 1A, killing two and injuring two others.
State Rep. Fred Rice, R-Hampton, said he has offered to co-sponsor Cushing's bill and would do so "enthusiastically."
"I think this probably slipped through the cracks a bit with the legislation," he said.
Rice said anyone who operates a motor vehicle without a license should face stiffer penalties.
"There needs to be something more than a light slap on the wrist," Rice said. "In the case of what happened in Hampton, the person never had a license, so they couldn't arrest her legally."
If police were able to detain Hess, Rice said there would have been "less likelihood that she would have been around to do that a second time."
"Driver's licenses are issued for a purpose, to show that somebody is qualified to operate a motor vehicle. If you never bothered to get one, that's saying, 'I don't care about the law and I have no regard for it,'" Rice said.
Making driving without a license a misdemeanor is a good first step, Rice said.
State Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, said she will also likely co-sponsor the bill.
Stiles said she still needs to review the current law more closely first.
"That was a situation that, perhaps, if the individual had been able to be arrested prior to the second incident maybe the second incident wouldn't have happened. I think it's important that we look at these things," Stiles said.
But legislators and police acknowledge that arresting a person can't guarantee that he or she won't drive again once released on bail.
Hampton Deputy Police Chief Richard Sawyer said that if someone is arrested for operating without a valid driver's license, that person would likely be eligible for personal recognizance bail.
"In that situation, the custodial period would be short in duration and absent any other charges or circumstances, (the person) would be released in under two hours," Sawyer said.