Law enforcement officers throughout California today have the power to confiscate the driver's licenses of suspected drunk drivers under a law that came into effect at 12:01 this morning.
The law calls for license seizure if a drunk driving suspect refuses to submit to a chemical test or if the test shows the suspect to have a blood alcohol level of .10 or above. Legislation has been introduced that would reduce the standard to .08 to bring the measure in conformance with the state's new legal standard for drunkenness that became effective Jan. 1.
The law comes into effect in the midst of a weekend drunk driving crackdown in downtown Los Angeles. A task force of Los Angeles police and California Highway Patrol officers arrested 118 allegedly drunk drivers on Friday night and Saturday morning.
"We'll probably get the same number of arrests tonight," Police Lt. Dan Hills of Central Traffic Division said of an overnight operation planned to begin late Saturday.
Motorists whose licenses are taken away will be given a 45-day temporary driving permit to allow time for revocation hearings by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV hearings are independent of criminal penalties if the suspect is convicted in court, officials said.
"Studies have shown that taking away a person's license is one of the best deterrents, even more so than jail time," said Dragutin Illich, assistant directing attorney of the Los Angeles County municipal courts.
Under guidelines of the law, an offender's license will be revoked for six months for a first offense, one year for a second offense and two years for a third or subsequent offenses. Legislation is under consideration that would further toughen suspension provisions.
State Sen. Bill Lockyer (D-Hayward) wrote the new law, which was passed on a unanimous vote by the state Senate last September and sent to the governor for signing.
A DMV phone line has been set up to answer public queries about the new law. The number is 1 (800) 765-3333.
Hills said the timing of the new law and of the drunk driving crackdown in downtown and South Los Angeles was coincidental. Such efforts are made each weekend in one of the Police Department's four traffic divisions, utilizing a police program known as Immediate Booking and Release Systems (IBARS).
Under IBARS, police officers use converted buses to test and hold drunk driving suspects until they can be released, as Hills put it, "to a sober relative." Under normal procedures, drunk driving suspects are jailed. The system streamlines the booking procedure and enables officers to spend more time on patrol, Hills said.
Suspects who had outstanding arrest warrants were jailed, Hills said.
Police used another IBARS bus to arrest and book 35 suspects in an prostitution sweep Friday night and Saturday morning near the Memorial Coliseum.