Crossposted on Ron Kaye LA

About 2:30 a.m. last Friday, a car with six women aboard slammed into a tree at Florence and Halldale avenues in South LA, throwing five women from the vehicle and trapping a sixth, according to a City News Service report, which quoted Sgt. Norma Vargas as saying: “We don’t yet know what happened, but our officers found an open container in the vehicle so alcohol may be a contributing factor.” Three of women have died from their injuries.

What wasn’t reported was the driver, Tenina Calhoun, had been cited 30 days earlier by a CHP officer for driving without a license but her car was not impounded, presumably because under the “caretaker” doctrine a licensed driver was readily available. If it had been impounded, it would not have been released until last Friday, hours after the accident occurred.

It happens all the time and raises questions about what authorities are doing about a problem that puts lives at risk every day.

A new state law makes it illegal to impound the cars of unlicensed drivers at DUI checkpoints if a licensed driver is available while the checkpoint is staffed – a policy that Police Chief Charlie Beck wants to extend to all unlicensed drivers at all traffic stops.

Deputy Chief Michel Moore presented the chief’s plan to a receptive Police Commission in December and Beck plans to come back to the Commission on Feb. 14 with a final draft of what he calls a procedural, not policy, change so it can’t be reviewed by the City Council, thereby letting them not take the heat since they can say it’s beyond their control.

The right answer that Beck, the mayor and everyone else backing this don’t have the courage to fight for is to provide licenses to everyone who can pass the tests and provide proof of insurance and car registration — even illegal immigrants. That is the only way to provide for the public safety and ought to be supported even by those who think all illegal immigrants should be rounded up and shipped home.

Stopping the impounding of cars of unlicensed drivers is a serious threat to public safety as Doug McIntyre, back at KABC in the morning radio slot, argued in his Daily News column today. Beck’s conditions for not impounding vehicles — a valid ID, proof of insurance, a clean driving record with no previous convictions for driving without a license or serious accidents — are “phony,” he wrote.

“What constitutes a “valid ID” in Charlie’s world? Matricula Consular cards? Please! Neither the LAPD nor the issuing agency, the Mexican Consulate, perform any background checks of any kind on applicants for consular cards. Anybody can get one under any name and address they please. I have one. Illegal immigrants frequently collect multiple consular cards making it virtually impossible to determine if the driver has ever been involved in a prior accident, drunk driving incident, or driving without a license arrest. In fact, the cop on the street has no way of knowing who the person even is. It’s a total crapshoot.”

So how can a cop check the driving record of someone he suspects has a phony ID? And since legitimate insurers won’t insure people without a valid license, is there any system to validate that insurance is active and real”

What’s really amazing is the total lack of study on every aspect of the issue from the number of unlicensed drivers whether suspended, revoked or not eligible to the driving their safety records.

What little there is goes back nearly 20 years to a “quasi-induced” statistical analysis of fatal crashes that guesstimated 13 percent of fatal crashes involved unlicensed drivers.

Three-quarters were due to suspended or revoked licenses, making them nearly four times more liked to be involved in fatal crashes than licensed drivers. One quarter never had licenses and were nearly five times more liked to be involved in fatal crashes.

What Beck is doing is making the cop on the street the arresting officer, judge and jury, putting them in the position that if they impound cars when the circumstances are not egregious, they will be the victims just as narcotics officers became the victims when the department decided gang peace at any price was more important than drug law enforcement.

The gridlock in Washington and Sacramento does not justify LA simply taking the law into its own hands, It undermines respect for the law and in this case puts the public at risk. But it’s going to happen because the commission is as docile these days as the chief to the will of the mayor and their political masters.