Houman Fakhimi

Unlicensed Drivers in LA Apparently Catching a Break

Police in Southern California have historically gone after unlicensed drivers, in an attempt to drive down the number of crashes and hit-and-runs.

San Bernardino criminal defense lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows that AAA Foundation research recently revealed a fifth of all fatal crashes involve drivers who don't have a valid license, despite the fact that they make up just 2.5 percent of drivers overall.

But in L.A., the number of vehicle impounds for unlicensed drivers has dropped off dramatically - about 40 percent in the last year, down to about 20,000 in 2012. The reason, according to police officials, has to do with Special Order 7. This is a new policy in which officers were instructed not to put 30-day holds on vehicles of unlicensed drivers who have auto insurance, have valid IDs and have no prior record for unlicensed driving.

Month-long impounds had in the past (and still in other jurisdictions, such as San Bernandino) cost drivers fees and fines that often exceed $1,200. Under the new rule, applicable only in L.A., vehicle owners may collect their vehicles as soon as they can get over to the lot. Officers have also been instructed to avoid impounding vehicles entirely in cases where another driver is able to arrive right away.

Similar impounding rule changes have reportedly been enacted in LA DUI checkpoints.

Even so, the number of hit-and-runs and fatal crashes stayed the same.

L.A. officials say a big part of the problem is that officers often err when interpreting records from the Department of Motor Vehicles, too many times incorrectly noting a past infraction as a current offense.

Police in L.A. aren't the only ones who do this, though. As one official noted, "It's a very complicated field of law - actually, much too complicated."

California Vehicle Code 12500(a) is the law that covers unlicensed driving. Citations for this offense are issued in situations where:

  • You never obtained a driver's license;
  • You didn't renew your license after it expired;
  • You established residence in California but you failed to get a state driver's license;
  • You aren't eligible for a driver's license, either because of your age or because you are an illegal immigrant.

Similarly, California Vehicle Code 14601 holds that you may be charged with a separate crime if your license was either suspended or revoked and you continued to drive anyway. This is a more serious offense than simply driving without a license, carrying a sentence of anywhere from 5 days to six months in jail, depending on the circumstances.

Drivers who don't have a license or are driving on a suspended license are more likely to flee a serious crash, which can result in serious felony charges.

Simply driving without a license, meanwhile, can be cited as either a non-criminal traffic infraction or as a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. Still, even as an infraction, you may have to pay hefty fines and it could result in higher insurance premiums if you actually do go to get your license. So it can be worth it in many scenarios to fight the charge.

As a traffic citation or a misdemeanor, you won't automatically be afforded an attorney if you are stopped for driving without a license or driving with a suspended license in San Bernardino. However, given the potential consequences of simply accepting a guilty plea, it's usually wise to consult with a lawyer to learn more about your options - especially if you're already saving money on the impound fees.

Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are arrested in San Bernardino.