Sure, we know what law enforcement tells us about why they set up checkpoints. It’s in the title “Sobriety Checkpoint.” They want to keep drunk drivers off the road. But does that mean they’re not looking for other “crimes” also? Doubtful. In fact, according to the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California, Berkeley, over 2,500 DUI sobriety checkpoints were planned by the California Office of Traffic Safety in 2010 and, sure enough, for every DUI arrest there were six vehicles impounded.
UC Berkeley, in conjunction with an investigation by California Watch, found that most of those who were having their vehicles impounded through sobriety checkpoints were illegal immigrants who did not have valid driver’s licenses. While law enforcement officials claim to ensure the “randomness” of sobriety checkpoints and their locations, data from the study might suggest otherwise. According to the study, police cited 12,867 unlicensed drivers in 2010 and suggests that 70 percent of vehicles impounded as a result of checkpoints were from unlicensed illegal immigrants.
Cha-ching! Good year to be a tow truck driver in California. I’ve had my vehicle towed before (and not for DUI or driving without a license) and it most definitely put a dent in my wallet. Car owners often must pay up to $1,000 to reclaim their vehicles from impound lots. In addition to the fines and fees the unlicensed owner must pay, cities sometimes receive a portion of fees paid to the tow truck drivers as a kick back.
On a side note, cha-ching for the officers manning those checkpoints also. The investigation also found that law enforcement departments often overstaffed the checkpoints with 20 plus officers. Riverside averaged 38 officers at each checkpoint. Raise your hand if you’re getting overtime?
Back to the impounding of vehicles. What has been done? Well, something actually. AB 353 took effect January 1, 2012. The law prohibits law enforcement officials to impound vehicles of sober individuals who happen to get caught driving without a valid license for more than 30 days. Officers must make a reasonable attempt to identify the vehicle’s registered owner. The law states that “the vehicle shall be released to either the registered owner… or to the licensed driver authorized by the registered owner.”
Citations may still be given out to the unlicensed drivers, but at least California is making attempts curtail the pickpocketing of unlicensed, often illegal immigrant, drivers.