California’s new impound law in effect Jan. 1

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, December 30, 2011

Once the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve in California, new rules on vehicle impounds take effect. Cities throughout the state will be restricted from seizing vehicles driven by people caught at sobriety checkpoints without driver’s licenses.

Until now, state law permitted cities to hold vehicles taken from unlicensed drivers for 30 days, with impound fees accumulating each day. If unclaimed, law enforcement could auction the vehicles.

More than 100 city and county law enforcement agencies around the state run sobriety checkpoints. Offenders nabbed at checkpoints typically are responsible for paying up to $2,000 in fines and fees.

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, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill to provide some leniency. Starting Sunday, Jan. 1, the new rule requires officers who catch unlicensed sober drivers at checkpoints to release the vehicle to a qualified driver representing the registered owner.

If a qualified driver is not immediately available, the vehicle could also be released later at the impound yard.

Critics say the new law will jeopardize public safety because more unlicensed drivers will be out on roads.

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

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