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This is in response to a story concerning halting impounds of unlicensed drivers ("U-Turn on vehicle-impound policy." Dec. 14).

Those who drive without a license, or on a suspended license, violate California law and expose themselves and other drivers to risk of significant injury or death. At least 1 million, and possibly as many as 2million, California drivers are unlicensed — meaning they are either driving without a license or on a suspended license.</CW>

Statistics demonstrate that unlicensed drivers are more dangerous than licensed drivers. According to figures from the state Legislature, more than half of all people driving with a suspended license were convicted of a DUI, and half of all hit-and-run collisions involved unlicensed drivers. Four in 10 unlicensed drivers are repeat offenders. Those who have not passed the written and driving tests administered by our state, or who have lost their driving privileges, are four times more likely than licensed drivers to be involved in a fatal accident.

These are scary statistics, but it gets worse. Even nonfatal collisions with unlicensed drivers may cause serious injuries to licensed drivers, injuries for which these law-abiding drivers will never be compensated. Those driving without a license are a danger to everyone on the road because they are unlikely to be insured, are difficult to locate and prosecute in a civil or criminal action and are unlikely to have significant assets other than the car they are driving.

The California Legislature enacted the Safe Streets Act to protect the public from unlicensed drivers. One of its most effective provisions is Vehicle Code Section 14602.6, which gives police the power to impound any vehicle driven by an unlicensed driver for 30 days.

There is a movement in some of the more liberal California cities to relax the impounding policy under the Safe Street Act. The most common arguments are that the law may not be effective, that the impounding process is time-consuming, and that undocumented immigrants are unfair targets of vehicle impounding. These arguments are misguided.

No law is completely effective, but good laws punish the criminal and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. People speed despite the presence of speed limits. However, speeding tickets do make the streets safer, because without them those who already speed would go even faster, and those who obey the law would likely speed. Not impounding vehicles for violation of the law would be like not having CHP officers on the highways for the month of January. Can you imagine? The results would be more fatal accidents, more drunken driving and everyone </CW>except Mother Teresa would be speeding.

Removing the vehicle from the hands of the unlicensed driver makes the streets safer and deters other unlicensed drivers from future violations through fines and loss of the use of the vehicle. An unlicensed driver whose vehicle has not been impounded will, upon release from custody, immediately get back into their car and drive again. On the other hand, an unlicensed driver whose vehicle has been impounded will either have to wait 30 days, find someone foolish enough to lend them their car or purchase another car.

Because public safety should be our primary concern, there are no compelling reasons to weaken the Safe Streets Act. Neither the Safe Streets Act, nor the police who enforce it, are discriminating against undocumented immigrants. Instead, they are treating all unlicensed drivers equally.

It has been effective precisely because it removes cars driven by unlicensed drivers from the streets for 30 days. Cars of unlicensed drivers should be consistently impounded whether the unlicensed driver is undocumented, a resident or a citizen. This will serve as an important tool to keep our roads safe for all drivers.

<i>Gene Crozat is owner of Santa Rosa-based G&C Auto Body and G&C Towing.</i>

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