Clearing a Michigan hold on your Driving Record – Pick your Battle

This article was inspired and suggested by Ann, my senior assistant, after an exhausting day on the phone with several out-of-state callers upset about a Secretary of State hold that the state of Michigan has placed on their driving records. It follows from the previous driver’s license restoration article; that article laid the groundwork for this one, and sets things up. This is really the article I wanted to write, because it addresses the emotions (“This isn’t fair!”) expressed by so many people who contact my office; a hold on your driving record from Michigan that is now preventing you from getting or renewing a license in a different state.

no-bullshit 1.2.jpgAnn suggested that this article be titled “Pick your Battles” because these frustrated callers are angry at the whole system that results in their not being able to get or renew their driver’s licenses, and place all the blame for this predicament on the state of Michigan. The point of this article will be to direct the readers focus to what can be done to remedy this situation, and how just complaining about it without taking the appropriate steps to fix it won’t help anything. The bottom line is that a person dealing with a Michigan hold on his or her driving record will ultimately have to pick a course of action that will produce either 1 of 2 results:

1. You can just complain that “this is bull$hit,” keep losing appeals, and get nowhere, or,

2. You can take the appropriate steps to fix the situation and get your license back.

Here’s the bottom line; if you have a hold on your record, it will never go away until you obtain a clearance from the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, and that will never happen if you choose to fight the system, rather than do what is required. What can be frustrating to me and my staff is that some people who call my office have been denied on multiple occasions, and, instead of wanting to do things differently (as in “right”) the next time, they’re still angry and trying to do things their way. This is particularly true when a person wants to argue that no matter what anybody says, they can still have a glass of wine every now and then. Curiously, it’s always “a glass of wine” that seems to be the sticking point with these types.

My office is here to help people get back on the road. The first requirement to be able to do that, if you don’t have a license because of multiple DUI’s, is prove that you have completely eliminated alcohol from your life and that you have made the changes necessary to remain alcohol-free. The Secretary of State sees anyone who still screws around with drinking as way too risky to put back on the road. Is that harsh? Maybe, but it is what it is. You can waste your time arguing about how that’s not fair, or how Michigan’s laws are “stupid” until you turn blue in the face, but if you want to win a clearance of a Michigan hold (or, if you still live in Michigan to get your license back), you will, first and foremost, have had to honestly quit drinking.

The whole license appeal process is complex, but the underlying purpose is really simple: The goal is to make sure anyone still using alcohol, in any way, or in any quantity, doesn’t get back on the road. I don’t make these laws, but I do not disagree with the mission to keep people who still drink from getting licensed, either. This may anger some people, because absolutely EVERYONE who still drinks will pipe up and tell you that in their case, they can control their drinking, and are no longer any threat to drink and drive.

The problem, when you have the perspective to look back on it, is that absolutely EVERYONE who finally gives up drinking admits to having those same arguments before they quit. And again, from the state’s point of view, why bother? If a person has been revoked for being a “habitual offender,” why not just make the criteria for getting a license back clear, clean and safe? By requiring clear and convincing evidence of past, current and likely future abstinence, the DAAD cuts out a whole big chunk of risk in terms of letting people get back on the road.

In that sense, it comes down to a choice; you either drink, or you drive. And when you think about it, what does it say that anyone would choose drinking over the ability to get a license back? In the bigger picture of life’s priorities, the very idea that drinking is this disproportionally important almost proves the idea that the person who feels that way has an unbalanced, if not unhealthy relationship to alcohol in the first place.

Most of the people who call my office feel a strong identification with my writings about sobriety and how life changes for the better once you get it. It’s the callers who want to argue about the law, the procedure, and everything else that test the patience of my staff and I. A fellow called up the other day after having lost an administrative appeal and began talking about how the denial affected his constitution right to travel. Huh? Another called after losing his appeal and told us that the hearing officer denied him for a problem with his substance abuse evaluation, which he interpreted as a mere technicality. He was sure that with some good legal advice, he’d win on appeal to circuit court. Well, laws and rules are technicalities. If you file your tax returns a week late, try telling the IRS that they cannot enforce any penalties because the filing deadline is nothing more than a “technicality.”

The point I’m driving at is that there is no way to win a clearance or a license appeal doing it “your way.” If you’ve already tried an administrative appeal and lost (don’t feel too bad about that; it’s a sucker’s bet, with 3 out of every 4 resulting in a denial) you should be ready to accept the fact that you need some help. I handle license appeal issues all day, every day. If you’ve quit drinking, I can win your case, guaranteed. If you’re still drinking, I can’t, and neither can you. Whatever else, there is no chance to get back on the road doing anything other than finding out what needs to be done, and then doing it.

If you’ve ever gone through the mortgage process, then you’ve no doubt been asked to provide documents beyond what any reasonable person could ever imagine makes any sense. When my wife and I obtained a mortgage a while back, I’m sure I said “this is bull$hit!” a million times. Still, I understood that I probably didn’t understand why all that was necessary, so I just sucked it up, stepped up, and did what needed to be done, even though I didn’t like it. In the end, we were approved.

My senior assistant, Ann, really hit the nail on the head when she suggested that I write an article about picking your battles. We’re here to help, but there is a specific procedure that needs to be followed and rules that need to be observed. I refer to this part of the Michigan license clearance/reinstatement process as being governed by “a million little rules.” The good news is that I know all of them by heart, probably a million times over. Even if you think that some of them are “stupid” or “unfair,” and even if you fill a football stadium full of people who agree with you, that won’t get you one step closer to winning your license back. Instead, resolve to do what needs to be done. That begins when you really quit drinking. From there, we can team up and win your appeal, which is, after all, the only battle that really matters, and the only one you should be picking.