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Forfeiture programs in California:Why so few?

Elsevier Ltd
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0022-4375(02)00015-4
  • Driving While Suspended
  • Vehicle Impoundment
  • Vehicle Forfeiture
  • Drinking And Driving
  • Law


Abstract Problem: It is estimated that at least 75% of suspended or revoked drivers continue to drive illegally. In states like California, there are also a substantial and growing number of people who drive without ever having been licensed. Some states, such as Ohio and California, have enacted vehicle impoundment and forfeiture programs as sanctions to reduce these offenses. Published evaluations indicate that vehicle impoundment laws reduce recidivism and crash rates. However, vehicle forfeiture programs have been less successful, mostly because of low levels of enforcement. Method: Police officers and district attorneys from 17 jurisdictions were interviewed by phone or in person to determine current enforcement levels and impediments to more aggressive application of statutory authority. Results and discussion: The survey found that most California jurisdictions are enforcing vehicle impoundments for first-time offenders. However, very few jurisdictions were enforcing the vehicle forfeiture law for repeat offenders. Among the reasons for not enforcing the vehicle forfeiture law was a perception that it was too time-consuming and/or not a priority among prosecutors. However, a number of authorities indicated that the simple vehicle impoundment procedure is often functionally equivalent to forfeiture because many drivers fail to retrieve the vehicle at the end of the impoundment period. Impact on industry: Vehicle impoundment programs are effective mechanisms in deterring illicit driving, and states should be encouraged to initiate vehicle impoundment laws. States could achieve even greater safety benefits if vehicle forfeiture sanctions were extensively used for repeat offenders. However, based on California's experience, the incremental benefits of vehicle forfeiture (over vehicle impoundment) may not be very great.

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