Recently my wife, the newly elected Assembly member Cheryl Brown of the 47th District, introduced AB 335 that will assist low income or working class communities by prohibiting law enforcement from impounding vehicles that can be parked legally or released to a licensed driver. I’m very proud of her for a number of reasons, but the most important one is that as a Sacramento lawmaker she is staying true to her life’s mission to help the disadvantaged, the voiceless, and those who are working hard to support their families.
In the state of California, the current law allows law enforcement officers to impound a car if the driver is stopped for some reason and found to have a suspended or revoked license or if they left it at home. In most cases, the person driving the car is released on the spot while the car, which has no violation of registration is impounded or put another way, is taken off to jail and locked up for 30 days at $50 a day plus towing fees of $225 and sold if the owner of the car does not pay all of these fees which is shared by the jurisdiction and the company.
The current law is disproportionately enforced in low-income communities as well as in communities of color. Who is going to believe the grandmother speaking in broken English who tries to explain that she did not know her grandchild was driving her car with a revoked licensed? Or the African American mother who did not know her son’s drivers license was suspended when he drove the car to the store for her? I even heard a story where a woman was stopped at night by law enforcement with her four children in the car. When she told the officer she left her license at home he sent for a tow truck and impounded her car while leaving her on the side of the road with her children. It cost her over one thousand dollars to get her car back.
There are hundreds of stories like this up and down the state. These people do not have the funds to pay the impound charges or a voice to combat this practice. I see no problem with a bill that will allow a car to be legally parked until a licensed driver or its legal owner can come and drive it away.
While I don’t talk to my wife about her legislation, like anything else I started reading more about the current practice. I found that some cities like Los Angeles already have a similar policy where the car can be parked and picked up instead of impounded if the car is not in violation. Even the current laws regarding DUI checkpoints require officers to arrest the drunk driver and release the car to a licensed driver. The person caught in a checkpoint without a license cannot lose his car to impoundment.
So why the inconsistency with the law? I think the state should use this legislation as an opportunity to study where this practice is taking place and see where these victims live. I would like to know if people in middle or high-income communities have their cars towed at the same rate as those in low-income communities and communities of color. In my opinion, I believe it can bring some parity to a practice that has been unfairly executed in communities of less influence.