A federal judge in California has just accepted as constitutional a state law under which the cars of unlicensed drivers were seized for up to 30 days. “Civil rights attorneys” using arguments like the ACLU’s had challenged the law, especially in Escondido. Hundreds of accidents and apparently some deaths have been prevented by the use of this law.
The facts for this article, but not the legal conclusions, come from an article in the North County Times in California, on 12 September, 2008. Federal District Judge S. James Otero ruled that a California law allowing impoundment of cars with unlicensed drivers, was constitutional.
While this article does not make clear whether the ACLU was directly involved in this case, other cases and statements show that the ACLU supports the position of the plaintiffs in this case. “Civil rights attorneys” had filed suit against the law which permitted the impoundment for up to 30 days of vehicles being driven by unlicensed drivers.
The article says this about the reasons the law was challenged: “Immigrant rights activists have criticized strict enforcement of the law because they say it unfairly targets illegal immigrants, who are ineligible for driver’s licenses and are forced to drive illegally to work, to visit doctors, and on other necessary trips.” Note the claim that illegal aliens were “forced” to drive illegally.
The contrary argument by supporters of the law, was: “Supporters of the law say it reduces the number of traffic accidents by cracking down on unlicensed drivers.” Where do the facts lead, in this debate?
The case was filed in southern California because the focus was the use of this law particularly in the City of Escondido. In the last three years, Escondido police have seized more than 10,000 cars whose drivers were illegal. During the same time, the surrounding County of San Diego seized 6,400 such cars.
The Escondido Police Chief cited the law as reducing the number of hit and run accidents. He said that such accidents were caused “primarily” by unlicensed drivers. Hit and run accidents dropped by 13% in one year, and the rate is apparently still dropping.
Research used by the legislature in passing the law, included the following points: “Of all drivers involved in fatal accidents, more than 20 percent involve unlicensed drivers. [And] a driver with a suspended license is four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than a licensed driver.
Those facts indicate why the California legislature entitled its law the Safe Streets Act of 1994.
Attorneys for the Plaintiffs said they would appeal the upholding of the law. Note this comment that sounds like a parody, but is real: “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right,” said Bill Flores, a spokesman of El Grupo, a North County-based umbrella organization of civil rights groups.
Each impounded car under the law costs owners significant fees. The total of such fees paid to the City of Escondido is about $10 million.
Escondido Councilman Sam Abed said, “I don’t think it’s just a moneymaking business. My goal is not financial. It’s taking unsafe drivers off our streets.”
Source for original story on the Net: