California lawmakers advance revised rules on impounds

| 9/7/2011

California cities could soon be restricted from impounding vehicles driven by people caught at sobriety checkpoints without driver’s licenses.

State law now permits cities to hold vehicles taken from unlicensed drivers for 30 days, with impound fees accumulating each day. If unclaimed, law enforcement can auction the vehicles.

According to a state analysis, two years ago police impounded more than 24,000 vehicles at checkpoints while about 3,200 were arrested for drunken driving.

Addressing the disparity that has led to accusations of money grabs, Assembly lawmakers voted to advance a bill to Gov. Jerry Brown that would require officers who catch unlicensed sober drivers at checkpoints to release the vehicle to a qualified driver representing the registered owner.

The Senate previously approved the bill – AB353 – on a 29-7 vote.

If signed into law, sober drivers caught at a checkpoint without a valid license would be allowed to have a qualified driver representing the registered owner take possession of the vehicle. The vehicle could also be released at the impound yard.

Critics say public safety would be jeopardized because more unlicensed drivers would be out on roads.

Supporters say sobriety checkpoints have turned into revenue generators that target drivers who are ineligible to obtain licenses.

Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, said the checkpoints are often set up in areas that do not have a higher incidence of drunken driving incidents. Instead, he said the checkpoints are set up where there are higher populations of low-income residents.

“With local government revenues shrinking, cities have begun increasing their revenue by using sobriety checkpoints to target these communities,” Cedillo wrote in the bill analysis.

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