DUI Checkpoints and Unlicensed Drivers
I’m glad this letter, by David Ragland and Phyllis Orrick of UC-Berkeley’s TSC, appeared recently in the New York Times. I had just seen something on PBS’ News Hour (by Lowell Bergman, of all people) that was framed to essentially make it sound as if California’s aggressive DUI checkpoints were merely depriving hard-working (and albeit not here legally) immigrants of their automobiles, and serving no other larger public safety purpose (just another “revenue grab” by states and municipalities).
Unlicensed Drivers: A View From California
Published: February 22, 2010
To the Editor:
Re “Unlicensed Drivers Are Caught in Net for Drunken Ones, and Lose Their Cars” (Bay Area section, Feb. 14), about California’s sobriety checkpoints:
There is nothing wrong if sobriety checkpoints find people who are “only” driving without a license.
According to “Unlicensed to Kill,” a definitive study of the problem published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, from 1993 to 1999, an average of a little more than 8,000 people were killed each year in driving-without-a-license crashes. That’s 20 percent of all fatal crashes. (By comparison, D.W.I. drivers are involved in 32 percent.)
Compared with licensed drivers, unlicensed drivers are 4.9 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash; 3.7 times more likely to drive while impaired; and 4.4 times more likely to be in hit-and-run crashes.
Studies have shown that checkpoints help remove unlicensed drivers from the road and save lives. That is why our center applied to help administer the grants for the California program. We recognize the importance of balancing personal freedom with enforcement of rules to protect the public’s health. That is why it is so crucial that people understand the seriousness of driving without a license.
D.W.L. is a huge problem, and one that is growing. It’s time we raised public awareness and did the same for D.W.L. that Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others did for D.W.I.
David R. Ragland
Berkeley, Calif., Feb. 18, 2010
Which isn’t to say there aren’t some problems with the checkpoints and the larger traffic justice system. For example:
California law allows police to impound the cars of unlicensed drivers for 30 days if they endanger public safety. But at some checkpoints witnessed by reporters, the seized vehicles appeared just fine. And while getting unlicensed – typically uninsured – motorists off the road is worthwhile, the punishment is out of whack with the crime, especially when DUI suspects typically don’t lose their cars.
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