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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Use It and Lose It

August 20, 1996

Anyone who spends a good chunk of time on Southern California's roads--and that means almost everybody--is likely to share the pavement with plenty of unlicensed drivers. Some of those drivers never have had a license; others are behind the wheel after their driving privilege was revoked.

The Orange County district attorney's office, California Highway Patrol and south Orange County courts have teamed up for a six-month pilot program aimed at getting the worst of the unlicensed off the road--by seizing their cars. It if works, it is an effort worth replicating throughout the county.

The Department of Motor Vehicles estimates that well over 1 million of California's 20 million drivers do not have valid licenses. DMV officials believe that three out of four drivers with revoked licenses continue to drive. Many seem to forget that a driver's license is not a birthright. It is just as easy to forget that a car can be a lethal weapon, despite the evidence provided by wrecks on the roadside.

Several years ago, the Legislature enacted a law allowing localities to seize the cars of those caught driving without a valid license and having at least one prior misdemeanor conviction for the same offense. San Francisco and the counties of Santa Barbara and Ventura have been enforcing the law.

Orange County officials rightly will concentrate on the serious violators, targeting those who have three previous convictions, not just one, for driving without a valid license or who have a previous conviction and have been convicted of drunken driving. That should leave no doubt that the primary target of this crackdown is the person whom society most needs to get off the road, the habitual offender.

Moreover, the experimental nature of the program offers an opportunity to test it locally. The plan is to reevaluate the program in February and make a decision then whether to keep it and even expand it to the rest of the county. This will provide a chance to work out any problems and address critics' concerns.

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