My colleague Jim Fremgen reported in his Road Warrior blog that a provision restricting car impounds from unlicensed drivers was stripped from a bill by Santa Rosa Assemblyman Michael Allen. A lot of people assume that means the restrictions won’t become law. I wouldn’t bet on it.
Allen’s bill now addresses sobriety checkpoints, and there’s strong opposition from lobbyists from the cops and from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. A nonpartisan legislative analysis says the bill would write guidelines established by the state Supreme Court into state law. Opponents say the bill goes further than the court intended. My guess: Allen’s bill gets killed in the state Senate.
But the provision prohibiting police from impounding cars from unlicensed drivers at sobriety checkpoints unless there is evidence of some other crime stands. It’s now the sole subject of a separate bill by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, and there is no formal opposition. Cedillo’s bill also is awaiting approval in the Senate. I think it has a good chance of passing, especially without the provisions actively opposed by law enforcement and MADD.
Under state law, impounds aren’t mandatory, and many police agencies already have instituted policies similar to Cedillo’s legislation. We recently editorialized in favor of policies allowing people to contact a licensed driver to pick up a car that otherwise would be impounded. A lot of people vehemently disagree, and their case gets stronger every time an unlicensed driver kills a 4-year-old in a crosswalk – or anyone else, for that matter.
Here’s something that might push me solidly into the pro-impound category: Change state law to allow police to impound cars from uninsured motorists. Plenty of people have licenses, but don’t bother with insurance. I thought they already were subject to impounds, but Sheriff Steve Freitas and Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm set me straight. A court can impound an uninsured driver’s car, but that’s optional. Treat unlicensed and uninsured drivers the same way, and there would be a better argument that impounds aren’t discriminatory. And we all might be a little safer on the road.
– Jim Sweeney