Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 4, 2011

Mayor clarifies city's towing policy

by Jac Siegel

Recent blog comments and questions indicate there is some confusion regarding the city's policy for towing and impounding cars driven by suspended and unlicensed drivers.

As a city, we are very concerned with community safety and do not consider policy changes that may affect community safety without thoughtful and deliberate review. The city is also required to act in accordance with court decisions.

The Mountain View Police Department routinely evaluates and updates policies as court decisions are rendered. The Police Department and the City Attorney's Office recently reviewed the towing and impounding policy in light of court decisions that examined the ability to seize or tow vehicles.

While state law authorizes towing and impounding vehicles for a variety of reasons, recent court decisions have highlighted that this authority is not automatic. A "community caretaking function" should exist before a tow occurs. The specific circumstances of each case should be evaluated to determine if a "community caretaking function" is present.

As an example, if leaving the vehicle at the location of the traffic stop would jeopardize public safety and the efficient movement of traffic, would create a hazard to drivers, or if the vehicle could become a target for vandalism or theft, then towing the vehicle would meet the "community caretaking function." If these factors are not present, seizing the vehicle by impounding it may be held by the courts to be improper.

So how has that changed what the police department is doing relative to suspended and unlicensed drivers who are stopped during traffic stops? The only change is that it is no longer an automatic decision to tow and impound vehicles driven by suspended and unlicensed drivers. The officer will now evaluate each case using the "community caretaking" standard. If the standard is met, then the car will be towed. If the standard is not met, then the car may be left legally parked or turned over to a licensed driver.

Suspended or unlicensed drivers are not permitted to continue driving. There is no free pass to continue to drive on a suspended license or without a license. These drivers are issued citations for the traffic violations they commit, including driving on a suspended license or without a license. The courts then determine the proper outcome for the violations.

I hope this helps clarify both our commitment to community safety and to keeping our policies up to date.

Jac Siegel is Mayor of Mountain View.

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