California’s unlicensed drivers will get a bit of a reprieve starting Jan. 1 under a new law written by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, the Los Angeles Democrat who has tried for years to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.
Cedillo, architect of the California DREAM Act, failed to push through his illegal immigrant driver’s license bill again this year – but he did convince his fellow lawmakers to bar police agencies from impounding vehicles for 30 days at DUI checkpoints when the driver’s only offense is the lack of a valid license.
Cedillo believes the practice, in place for a couple of years, unfairly targets illegal immigrants.
The new law will impact operations in the Santa Clarita Valley, where sheriff’s deputies typically haul off five or six vehicles from unlicensed drivers who are identified at DUI checkpoints. Five cars were placed on 30-day impounds for that reason at a Dec. 22 checkpoint in Canyon Country, and one was impounded at a Dec. 19 checkpoint in Valencia.
SCV Traffic Sgt. Richard Cohen said henceforth, deputies will be instructed to give unlicensed drivers a reasonable amount of time – probably up to 30 minutes before the end of the checkpoint – to find someone with a license to drive away their car. Failing that, deputies will tow it – but under the new law, deputies can’t place it on a 30-day hold.
Up to now, vehicles taken away from unlicensed drivers couldn’t be touched for 30 days, Cohen explained. After Jan. 1, there is no set length of time. With the owner’s consent, a car can be collected from the tow yard immediately by anyone who presents a valid license and proof of insurance.
Without the 30-day cooling off period, “ultimately that driver will get his car back and start driving again,” Cohen said. “That’s part of the (reason for the) 30 days – to make sure they have a license and insurance.”
Theory being, if a driver doesn’t have access to his vehicle for 30 days, he’s more likely to use the time to clear up his licensing problem. He’d be less inclined if someone can get his car back for him right away.
Thus, Cedillo’s conjecture that the 30-day impounds target illegal immigrants. Undocumented aliens can’t spend the 30 days getting a license because they’re ineligible to have one in the first place.
Cohen noted that the elimination of 30-day impounds applies only to DUI checkpoints. At any other time and location, deputies still may impound unlicensed drivers’ vehicles for 30 days.