DUI checkpoints in California have doubled as all-you-can-tow buffets for cash-strapped cities. That's because the unlicensed drivers who happen upon them get their vehicles towed and impounded. If they don't have the cash to bail their cars out (often around $1,000 for 30 days at the tow-truck motel), the rides are sold, with proceeds going to cities and tow yards.

After immigrant rights groups raised a ruckus here in Los Angeles, the LAPD changed its policy, allowing for the unlicensed to grab a friend or relative with a license who can rescue the ride. Illegals can't get licenses in California, so their cars have been easy targets at checkpoints.

Now the state of California is likely to follow the department's lead:

A bill by state Assemblyman Gil Cedillo of L.A. is sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, waiting for his signature.

According to the language, cops across California would no longer be able to tow a car at a DUI checkpoint solely because the driver is unlicensed. Officers would be required to release the vehicle “to a licensed driver authorized by the registered owner.”

If someone with a license can't be found immediately, the car can be towed, but not for long. It would have to be released to a licensed driver specified by the registered owner in short order.

It's an issue close to Cedillo's heart. For nearly a decade he's been working on getting drivers licenses for the undocumented in California.

He felt tricked by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once promised to sign such a law, but then failed to do so after the then state assemblyman got his bill passed by the legislature.

Often those caught up in DUI checkpoints are illegals, because they have no way of obtaining a license (and yet they remain omnipresent here). We described it this way in a headline a year ago: “Welcome to America, Now Give us Your Car.” Some have even accused the LAPD of setting up its checkpoints in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods.

This, for Cedillo, is one step toward protecting L.A.'s most vulnerable, rights-lacking population from seeing their most costly purchases — cars — being taken from them like candy from a baby.


LA Weekly