Gov. Brown Signs Changes to California Vehicle Impound Law

uninsured car getting towedA new California law bars authorities from impounding vehicles they stop at sobriety checkpoints if the driver’s only crime is not having a valid license.

The legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires law enforcement officers to release a vehicle to its registered owner at the checkpoint if that person is present and has a driver’s license, or to a licensed driver authorized by the owner. If the vehicle is impounded, it is to be released to an authorized driver who can show proof of driving privileges.

But impoundment or no, a conviction of driving unlicensed can have a substantial effect on car insurance prices.

An analysis of quotes from 11 California insurers shows that premiums could potentially increase by as much as 50 percent for a motorist who has just one conviction of driving with no privilege to do so.

The average increase for having such a conviction among the 11 insurers is 23 percent.

Under existing state law, police may impound a vehicle for 30 days if the driver cannot show a valid driver’s license, even if the driver does not own the vehicle.

The new law, sponsored by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, requires officers to make “a reasonable attempt” to identify the registered owner and turn the vehicle over to them.

Law enforcement agencies statewide conduct checkpoints to search for drunken drivers and vehicle that violate state exhaust standards.

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) reported in December that it is funding more than 2,100 checkpoints statewide this year. The agency states that fatal crashes involving alcohol have decreased by 26 percent since OTS and law enforcement agencies began focusing more closely on checkpoints in 2006.

But critics contend the checkpoints unfairly punish undocumented immigrants who do not have driver’s licenses.

According to California Watch, police officers at checkpoints statewide in 2010 impounded six cars for every one arrest made for driving under the influence (DUI). An investigation by the independent news agency and UC Berkeley found that most of the nearly 17,500 vehicles seized were driven by sober but unlicensed illegal immigrants.

Proponents of impounding the vehicles of unlicensed motorists point to a study released in 2000 by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that found 20 percent of all fatal crashes involved at least one driver who either had no valid license or whose license status was unknown.

Insurance industry experts say not having a valid license can present problems beyond financial penalties and vehicle impoundment. It can also be difficult to obtain car insurance without a license, which puts all motorists at greater risk of financial loss in the event of an accident.

According to the Insurance Research Council, about 1 in 7 drivers in California was uninsured in 2009.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

No comments yet.

Comment on this article