Unlicensed drivers to get warning

October 26, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
San Francisco police are about to give drivers caught without a license a major break, at least the first time. Officers will no longer automatically impound their cars.

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Getting your car out of the impound lot in San Francisco is certainly not cheap. Stephanie Dopp inadvertently parked in a tow-away zone and it cost her $375 to get her car back.

"I was upset, I mean it's going to be a huge financial burden for me. I'm in school right now," said Dopp.

That hefty price tag is why the San Francisco Police Department is changing its policy. Starting Sunday, November 1, 2009, drivers who are pulled over without a license for the first time will still get cited, but police will no longer impound their cars.

Instead, unlicensed drivers will have 20 minutes to call someone with a license to pick up the vehicle. It will apply to everybody, but the new policy was developed with illegal immigrants in mind. The mayor's office and members of the board of supervisors are voicing their support.

"It's something the police department, working with the community, has decided to do to build trust in the community," says Nathan Ballard, the San Francisco mayor's spokesperson.

"From a public safety stand point, this sort of strikes the right balance," says San Francisco Supervisor David Campos.

But some say giving unlicensed drivers a break is a public safety concern and bad immigration policy. Brenda Walker with the Bay Area Coalition For Immigration Reform says if anything, the law should be tougher on unlicensed drivers.

"There's a reason why we license drivers. It's for public safety. We want them to be able to read the signs and know what the law is and behave accordingly," says Walker.

City leaders, though, say the new policy could actually help make San Francisco streets safer.

"If police pull you over for not having a license, this actually reduces the likelihood that you're going to try and take off and run a red light or get into a chase with the police officers," says Ballard.

Police won't be so accommodating to unlicensed drivers caught the second time. Officers will impound if an unlicensed driver is caught again within six months.

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