Seattle City Council
5/18/2004 4:35:00 PM
Lisa Herbold (206) 684-8803
COUNCIL COMMITTEE VOTES TO ELIMINATE VEHICLE IMPOUNDS FOR DWLS-3
Proposal would limit use of vehicle impounds, but add impounds for DWI offenses
SEATTLE – Members of the Seattle City Council today voted 6-0 to eliminate the City’s controversial practice of impounding the vehicles of people stopped for driving with a suspended license in the third degree. The vote in the Public Safety, Civil Rights & Arts Committee sends the legislation to the Full Council for final action on Monday.
“The fact that this impound law has been shown to impact poor people and people of color disproportionately to their numbers in the City, and the fact that there is no evidence that vehicle impound deters violators from continuing to drive without a license suggest to me that this law is unfair,” said Councilmember Nick Licata, chair of the Public Safety Committee and a co-sponsor of the legislation.
DWLS-3 involves drivers accused of continuing to drive a car after having their driver’s license suspended as a result of being convicted of a serious traffic offense (but are still eligible to reinstate their license) or having failed to respond to a nonparking-related traffic ticket. Under current practice, if a driver is accused of DWLS-3, police officers have discretion to impound a vehicle or arrest the driver, do both or do neither. Typically, police impound the vehicle, even if the automobile does not belong to the offending driver.
If prosecuted, violators may be diverted to a relicensing program that works with them to regain their driver’s license.
Under the proposal passed by the Council committee today, Seattle police would not have the option of impounding vehicles involved in a DWLS-3, but may impound vehicles in DWLS-1 or -2 cases if the offending driver is the vehicle’s registered owner. The proposal also would change current law to allow a driver whose vehicle has been impounded to regain that vehicle once all fines and penalties owed to Seattle have been paid, even if the driver still owes money to other jurisdictions. Finally, the proposal would allow for Seattle Police to impound vehicles for drivers charged with driving while intoxicated, a new option granted by the state.
“This impound law has become too much of a symbol of unfairness in Seattle,” said Councilmember Jean Godden, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “It is sort of like using a machine gun to kill a gnat – it’s overkill.”
“As a former prosecutor – in Yakima County – I believe there is a better way to enforce this law,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, another co-sponsor of the legislation. “I agree with this move to eliminate impounds for DWLS in the third degree.”
“This is good legislation and I believe we ought to be looking at community-based solutions to get people to pay their tickets or regain their license,” said Councilmember David Della, also a co-sponsor.
“People who drive without a license should face penalties, but I am deeply concerned about the compounding effect of seizure of property,” said Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck in voting for the legislation.
“Seattle provides ample opportunities for DWLS-3 violators to attempt to clear their record and legally regain the privilege to drive,” said Councilmember Richard J. McIver, who also voted for the proposal. “If a person does not comply with these programs, our legal system has serious penalties for them, including jail time. For poorer people who face a financial penalty for the violation, compounding that with the high impound fees necessary to regain a car is an unjust burden.”