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Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OC Register: State outlaws practice of seizing cars of sober, unlicensed drivers

The problem with the OC Register article regarding vehicle impound legislation below and the research the legislation is based on, is that they're politically driven giving partial truths and not based on all the facts.  Here is a study by the Triple A - Foundation for Traffic Safety. 



Deadly Crashes Often Involve Invalidly Licensed Drivers, AAA Foundation Study Shows

Drivers who do not have valid licenses are involved in 20 percent of fatal crashes, a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows. "One fatal crash in five involves a driver who is not properly licensed," says David Willis, President of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "These scofflaws pose a serious threat to law-abiding motorists."
The study was performed by Dr. Lindsay Griffin of the Texas Transportation Institute, who used crash data from the Department of Transportation’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. "Drivers operating on invalid licenses at the time of their fatal crashes are different from the rest of us," Dr. Griffin says. "Not only were their licenses invalid, but 28 percent of them had received three or more license suspensions or revocations in the three years before their crashes. These are not just ordinary people who forgot to renew."
Dr. Griffin examined five years of fatal crash data, identifying each driver’s license status. Drivers with invalid licenses were far more likely to have been driving drunk and to have had multiple suspensions or revocations in the three years before the crash. In addition, the incidence of improper licensing varied widely by state. Maine had the lowest incidence, with 6.9 percent.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Page Two The state with the highest proportion of invalidly licensed drivers was New Mexico, where 23.9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were either unlicensed, operating on an invalid license, or of unknown license status. .... Other high-risk jurisdictions included the District of Columbia, Arizona, California, and Hawaii. An earlier study by Streff and Eby found that 30 to 70 percent of drivers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked may continue to drive, Griffin said.
What can be done to combat this scourge? "Unlicensed drivers need to be prevented from driving," says Willis. Vehicle immobilization or impoundment for drivers who have had their licenses taken away could be one effective approach, the study suggests. Another promising high-tech solution is an electronic "smart-card" driver’s license. This credit card-like device contains a computer chip, without which a car can’t be started. If the license is taken away by the licensing agency, the violator would be prevented from driving.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a not-for-profit charitable organization funded by donations from AAA and CAA clubs and members. Its safety education programs include teen driver education; antilock brake (ABS) safety; drowsy driving; aggressive driving and road rage; and older driver safety. Located in Washington, D.C., the Foundation has been devoted to preventing crashes and saving lives through research and education since 1947. Visit the Foundation's web page at http://www.aaafoundation.org for more information about its activities.




State outlaws practice of seizing cars of sober, unlicensed drivers

October 11th, 2011, 12:42 pm · · posted by Chris Knap, Editor, Government, Politics and Investigations

A controversial DUI checkpoint practice that has generated tens of millions of dollars for California police agencies has been outlawed by the state legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown has signed off on the reform.
The practice–impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers for 30 days–has little or nothing to do with impaired driving.  Sober drivers trapped in the net of the checkpoints who are not able to prove they have a valid license have had their car impounded for 30 days.  It’s no surprise that the vast majority of those drivers are illegal immigrants who are not allowed to obtain a drivers license in California.
This 2010 investigation by Ryan Gabrielson, a U.C. Berkeley Investigative Reporting fellow who now works with California Watch, found that impounding the cars has become the prime activity at the checkpoints, despite their DUI moniker: In 2009 police officers in California impounded more than 24,000 cars and trucks at checkpoints,  roughly seven times more than the 3,200 drunken driving arrests.
It’s a widespread, unsavory and apparently illegal practice that flies in the face of the law: In 2005 the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that police can not impound a car just because a driver is unlicensed, Gabrielson found.Caught between thousands of dollars in storage fees and the fear of being deported, many drivers just walked away from their seized cars, generating more profits for the towing companies–which were then shared with the police agencies.
In 2009 the impounds generated $40 million in towing fees and police fines, Gabrielson estimated, revenue that cities divide with towing firms.  Not coincidentally, police officers received about $30 million in overtime pay for the “DUI” crackdowns, most of them funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety.
On Sunday, Brown signed AB 353, which specifically prohibits police at checkpoints from seizing a car solely because the driver is unlicensed. Sponsored by Assemblymen Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles and Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, the new law gives unlicensed motorists time to find a legal driver and avoid impound.
Police can still ticket the driver for unlicensed driving.
If the driver can’t find a legal driver and the car remains at the checkpoint when the operation ends, police can have it towed and held for a short time, the bill says.  Vehicle owners still must pay city release fees, plus tow and storage charges to retrieve those cars.   But the costs probably will total a few hundred dollars, rather than a few thousand from a 30-day impound, Gabrielson reports today.
The new law, or, one could say, the statutory recounting of what the law already said but police were ignoring, goes into effect Jan. 1.
You can read more about the new law at Gabrielson’s California Watch post.
His original investigation is here.

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