They've been rear-ended by immigration politics. They've been sideswiped by legal semantics. No wonder law-abiding citizens who oppose the plan to stop impounding unlicensed drivers' cars have developed a case of road rage.
If officials haven't noticed the anger yet, they may get an earful of it Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012 when the Los Angeles Police Commission holds a public meeting in the San Fernando Valley.
Let's hope the commission, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa get the message: People who drive and walk in L.A. feel their safety is threatened by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck's plan to stop the 30-day seizures of the vehicles of unlicensed motorists.
Under Beck's decision, which could go into effect this month, unlicensed drivers' vehicles no longer would be towed except in cases where their licenses have been revoked or suspended. Instead, first offenders' cars could be retrieved by the registered owners or by licensed drivers.
Beck argues that saving offenders up to $1,500 in towing and impound charges will help the punishment fit the crime.
The decision pleases advocates for illegal immigrants, who are said to suffer a disproportionate effect from the current impound policy, because they lack the documentation to obtain drivers' licenses.
But it should outrage advocates for public safety, because it lowers the disincentive to get behind the wheel without a license, putting more drivers on the road who have not been proven capable.
Talk about a disproportionate effect: AAA says one in five fatal collisions nationwide involves an unlicensed driver.
The new roadblock to doing the right thing is the LAPD's insistence that the announced change represents a change not in public "policy" but in police "procedure." If it's a policy, it can be reviewed by the police commission and the City Council. If it's a procedure, it cannot.
The commission and the council should not be deterred by such word games.
Although the issue is not on the agenda for the commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17 at St. Nicholas Church, 9501 Balboa Blvd., Northridge, it is likely to dominate the public-comment period. KFI AM (640) talk-show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, and other opponents of the policy change, have urged victims of unlicensed drivers to tell their stories. We urge officials to listen.
Protecting public safety means protecting the current impound policy.