Lawmakers debate purpose of DUI checkpoints

July 6, 2011 12:08:42 AM PDT
DUI checkpoints were designed to catch drunk drivers and discourage others from drinking and driving. But in recent years, there is evidence many are being used for something very different. Now there is a move in Sacramento to force those checkpoints back to their roots.

Ellen Rosenberg's son, Drew, who was killed by an unlicensed driver last year. The still-grieving mother pleaded with the Senate Public Safety Committee to vote against a bill that would stop law enforcement from impounding the cars of unlicensed drivers, mostly illegal immigrants, at DUI checkpoints.

Police would still be able to impound the cars of drunk drivers and vehicles suspected of being involved in a crime.

"How could I not be furious at the double speak I'm hearing here? We're going to say, 'You're above the law because you can't get the license?'" Rosenberg asked.

Assm. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, says cities throughout California have been abusing DUI checkpoints, using them to impound the cars unlicensed drivers to collect hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in impound fees to fill up local coffers.

Police seize roughly six times more cars from sober, unlicensed drivers than drunk drivers and the roadway operations are often not near drinking establishments or at times when they close.

"Saturday mornings, Sunday mornings, on corridors when people go to work, outside churches, schools," Cedillo said. "Why? Because that's where you'll find unlicensed motorists. Immigrant motorists who cannot get a license."

Cedillo called the Rosenberg accident a tragedy, but also points to the tragedies of undocumented immigrants who were killed or victims of crimes as a result of walking instead of driving.

Rosenberg became furious at the lawmaker for using of her name to support his bill.

"Don't ever use my name again!" she said.

The bill passed and now heads to the Appropriations Committee next. A 2000 study the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that when compared to licensed drivers, unlicensed drivers are nearly five times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash.

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