Northwest NEWS

May 22, 2000

Local News

Stiffer policy for driving with suspended licenses

by Bronwyn Wilson, staff reporter

   "There's a definite problem statewide," said Chief Ken Wardstrom of the Woodinville Police Dept. "At any given time, over 260,000 people are driving with a suspended license in this state."

   In response to this statewide problem, the City of Woodinville adopted Ordinance No. 262, which provides for vehicle impoundment when a person is identified driving with a suspended or revoked license. It was passed under consent by the City Council on May 15.

   The City of Woodinville authorized the King County Sheriff's Office to act as agents in impounding vehicles if the driver is arrested for a violation of Driving While License Suspended (DWLS). If the violation is in the first or second degree, the vehicle will be impounded for thirty days. The person redeeming the vehicle will have to establish that he or she is the registered owner and that they have a valid driver's license.

   The new policy imposes a $100 administrative fine; removes the suspended driver's vehicle from the streets for a longer period of time; insures compliance with Washington State laws; routes the DWLS driver to the courts; establishes a means for impounded vehicles to be insured while providing an appeal process for impounds; and considers spousal hardship.

   Despite the existence of criminal penalties for driving with a suspended license, an estimated 75% of these drivers continue to drive anyway. Existing sanctions have not been sufficient to prevent these drivers from driving with a revoked license. Prior to the passage of Ordinance No. 262, the procedure for a DWLS arrest was to impound the vehicle, which was released immediately when the tow truck company was paid for the impound.

   A person's license is revoked in the first degree if they have three or more convictions within a five-year period for a serious driving offense or commit 20 or more traffic infractions within a five-year period.

   A license is revoked in the second degree when a driver is convicted of a felony in which a motor vehicle is used. A few of the reasons for a suspension in the second degree include: eluding, reckless driving, DUI, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, racing, leaving children in an unattended vehicle, aiding, abetting, coercing another to commit a traffic offense, and refusing a breath or blood test when suspected of a DUI.

   A license is suspended in the third degree when a person fails to respond, appear at, or pay a traffic infraction. Other reasons for a third degree suspension are: if the person was involved in a traffic accident without insurance; if their license is suspended in another state; if they failed to provide proof of alcohol or drug treatment as required by a court.

   Suspended drivers pose a threat to the lives and property of Washington residents as they are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents, including fatal accidents. Vehicle impoundment will provide an immediate consequence and provide an appropriate measure of accountability for registered owners who routinely allow suspended drivers to drive their vehicles. The new policy adopted by the City adds a needed safety measure.