Austin police want to impound your car if you ‘crash while suspended’

Crash involving a man driving with a suspended license, May 2015. (Courtesy: APD Photo)
Crash involving a man driving with a suspended license, May 2015. (Courtesy: APD Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – If you collide with another motorist while your driver’s license is suspended, Austin police now propose towing and impounding your vehicle while you find a ride with someone else. But not everyone on the city’s Public Safety Commission where the new proposal was first presented Monday is on board.

A resolution to endorse the APD plan met with an evenly-divided Commission, members voting 5-5. That means when the police chief brings the item up for full city council consideration later this fall, it won’t have the formal backing of the city’s main appointed public safety body.

Some members suggested the policy casts too wide a net on motorists, some of whom might have only been convicted of a ‘minor’ drug offense.

Monday’s vote comes in contrast to the same Commission’s positive vote on Feb. 1, where members endorsed a draft version of the impoundment plan.

The new proposed policy builds on existing rules where Austin police can, under state law, arrest someone they stop whose license is suspended, a class C misdemeanor. Typically, though in order to keep the jails from filling up with minor violators, police have said they will give a suspended driver a ticket. In turn, the driver promises to appear in municipal court to pay the citation. Not all do, a KXAN Investigation earlier this year found.

The proposed policy if passed will allow an officer to impound the vehicle and cite any driver with:

  • No driver’s license (after two prior convictions or involved in any crash)
  • Any driver’s license suspension for drug offenses, a DWI or excessive moving violations that categorizes the driver as a ‘habitual offender.’

Police suggest the aim is to take away someone’s ability to injure or kill others by removing them from the road (especially repeat offenders with multiple suspended license citations) while keeping those drivers out of jail.

“This ordinance is going to (focus on) the individuals who could have been arrested otherwise but this would allow us to impound the vehicle without having to make that arrest,” explained APD’s Chief of Operations Brian Manley outside the Commission meeting.

Commissioner Kim Rossmo said the ordinance change would be a way to change the behavior of someone who obviously doesn’t care about others’ safety.

The proposed policy change appeared first as a recommendation for consideration in the City’s Vision Zero plan. Last spring, Austin became the latest city worldwide to embrace the Vision Zero strategy in a bid to reduce serious injury and fatal crashes. The plan emerged after a year where one third of Austin’s record 102 fatal crashes involved a driver whose license had been suspended.

New police statistics for 2016 so far show in 49 deadly crashes, 10 involved someone without a valid license or none at all.

APD data show in all crashes 16 percent of drivers were behind the wheel with a suspended license or none at all.

Other Texas cities that have similar ordinances in place include: Dallas, San Antonio, Waco, El Paso and Corpus Christi, police say.