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California Legislature Considers Limiting DUI Roadblock Use
Legislation would prohibit license violation impounding at drunk driving roadblocks in California.

Gil Cedillo
Confiscating automobiles has become a significant source of revenue for cash-strapped California cities. Last Tuesday, the state legislature gave preliminary approval to legislation to impose limits on the practice.

Under current law, municipalities run sobriety checkpoints funded almost entirely by $30 million in federal grant money. The drunk-driving (DUI) roadblocks catch comparatively few drunk drivers, so officers often focus on issuing as many tickets as possible for minor violations while cars are stopped. Assembly Bill 353 separates vehicle inspection checkpoints from DUI roadblocks and prohibits impounding of vehicles unless the alleged offense meets certain criteria.

Cars will be impounded from anyone suspected of driving while drunk or on a suspended license, unless the driver or a police officer can safely park the vehicle until a properly licensed driver can take it away. Some lawmakers see racial motivation behind current practice.

"Despite their original intent, sobriety checkpoints are increasingly being used to target drivers that are ineligible to obtain licenses in order to increase local revenue," the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), explained. "Frequently these checkpoints are set up in the areas that do not have a high correlation of DUI arrests or accidents; instead, they are placed in neighborhoods and, or locations where there are higher populations of low-income families and communities."

Cedillo cited the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley which calculated that at 3200 roadblocks in the past two years, 61 percent took place in locations with a heavy Hispanic population.

"While impoundments for DUIs are usually overnight, impoundment for driving without a license typically last for a term of 30 days," Cedillo said. "Often, this effectively results in the forfeiture of the vehicle because the towing and impoundment fees may well exceed the value of the vehicle, which is apart from the fines already paid to local governments."

Municipalities collect $150 from license fines imposed at roadblocks plus receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from towing companies. Out of 24,000 vehicle impounds at DUI roadblocks in 2009, a mere 13 percent were related to drunk driving.

A copy of the legislation is available in a 160k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Assembly Bill 353 (California State Legislature, 8/16/2011)

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