House panel parks proposal to tow unlicensed drivers' cars

Posted April 19

— A state House committee on Wednesday voted down a bill that would require a vehicle operated by an unlicensed driver to be towed away from a traffic stop unless a licensed driver could be found to drive the car away.

Under House Bill 341, any driver found at a traffic stop to have an expired license or no license at all would not be allowed to drive his or her vehicle away after being charged. The driver would have one hour to produce a licensed driver who could legally drive the vehicle away, or it would be towed and impounded.

The owner of the vehicle would be able to reclaim it by bringing a valid driver's license and, if the owner didn't know the driver was unlicensed, a written acknowledgement to that effect, and would have to pay all towing and storage fees.

The proposal was amended in the House Judiciary I Committee hearing to give law enforcement officers more discretion and replaced the one-hour restriction with a "reasonable time" to find a licensed driver.

Still, committee members poked holes in the bill, saying it didn't address drivers with revoked or suspended licenses and would make it impossible for an owner to reclaim a vehicle if he or she doesn't have a license and wasn't the driver.

Sponsor Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, acknowledged the bill still needed work.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said it was a waste of a law enforcement officer's time to wait around for someone to come and pick up the ticketed driver and his or her car.

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, questioned the whole procedure, saying it lacked due process protections afforded when vehicles are taken in drunken driving or fleeing to elude law enforcement cases.

"Once an officer makes the decision by the side of the road to seize the vehicle, there is absolutely no due process review," Jackson said. "How are we taking someone's property without due process?"

The committee voted down the bill on a voice vote.


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