Until this year, drivers found without a valid driver’s license in California would receive a citation and their vehicles were impounded for 30 days. A significant number of unlicensed drivers were being discovered though DUI checkpoints, where nearly all drivers are stopped and briefly questioned. Some police departments were towing and impounding up to 40 vehicles a night from unlicensed drivers. A recent study claimed cities and tow companies were collecting up to $40 million from these fees.
However, in October 2011 California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to reduce the number of vehicles seized from sober, unlicensed drivers at DUI checkpoints. The new law, which went into effect January 1, 2012, prohibits police from confiscating a car solely because the driver is unlicensed and will give the driver a chance to find a licensed driver. Drivers with revoked or suspended licenses are still subject to the 30-day impound.
Individuals suspected of alcohol related offenses should call Riverside DUI lawyers right away. In addition to having their vehicles impounded, they will be arrested. California’s drunk driving laws are severe and individuals will need a strong defense.
Although seized vehicles are usually towed quickly from DUI checkpoints, the new law will require some logistical changes. Keeping cars at the checkpoint will require more police officers to monitor waiting vehicles and may also require law enforcement agencies to move DUI checkpoints to locations that can accommodate a large number of parked cars.
The Impact on Immigrants in Riverside
The new law will undoubtedly benefit Riverside’s immigrant community, who were being disproportionately affected by the impound process. Many Latino lawmakers and advocacy groups felt the DUI checkpoints unfairly targeted illegal immigrant drivers, who are usually unlicensed.
Immigrants often gave up their vehicles as towing and impound fees climbed as high as $2,000, frequently exceeding the vehicle’s value. The checkpoint system perpetuated an unfair cycle, leaving many immigrant drivers without transportation.
Although the new law requires immigrants to find licensed drivers who can drive their vehicles home, it will at least leave a door open that should allow more immigrants to keep their cars.
The Impact on Public Safety
Critics of the new law are afraid that releasing the car will equate to putting it back in the hands of an unsafe driver. The California director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) believes traffic accidents and hit-and-runs will increase as unlicensed drivers are statistically more dangerous behind the wheel.
Whether any of these fears hold true remains to be seen. The new law does not change the number of unlicensed drivers in California and so any impact in terms of accidents may be negligible. The law really only impacts the location of the vehicle and relieves the burden on unlicensed drivers who are otherwise law abiding.
Individuals who are driving with no insurance in Riverside will not be affected by the new law. Their vehicles are still subject to being impounded.