Earlier today, the Dallas city council voted 10-5 to require — in most circumstances — police to tow vehicles stopped for traffic violations when the drivers are unable to produce proof of insurance, according to the DMN. The ordinance doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. Neighborhood council members all voted in favor of the ordinance.
Dr. Elba Garcia led the resistance to the ordinance, and she made a good point (as quoted in the story): "This is going to cost every taxpayer of the city of Dallas. It goes against a neighborhood. It goes against economic development … We’d pass something that feels good. But guess what? It has consequences we haven’t looked into," including the cost of expanding the city’s auto pound and the need for what she estimated will be 16 police officers would need to be transferred from patrol to traffic in order to enforce the ordinance.
On the plus side, the city intends to make accommodations to ensure that a family isn’t dumped by the roadside in the middle of the night, along with other establishing other minimal waiver ability to protect against putting people at personal risk simply to tow their car. That’s the way the law needs to be done, with at least a little compassion available at an officer’s discretion.
And I completely agree with the goal of the ordinance: to take uninsured drivers off the road the only way they can really be hurt, but taking away their ride. This is an ordinance that impacts the less-fortunate among us disproportionately, but driving is a privilege and not a birthright — affordable mass transit is available here, too. And unfortunately, there are a number of people who could afford auto insurance but choose not to because currently there’s no downside; if they are involved in an accident and they don’t have any assets, they’re likely to get off with a few threats from the other party’s insurance company or, at worst, be forced into bankruptcy. But they’ll continue to be free to offend again, and if you don’t have anything to begin with, bankruptcy and collection calls aren’t going to be too bothersome.
Garcia’s point about the number of officers that may need to be redirected to deal with increased violations is potentially valid, though: If the police can figure out a way to get a tow truck to a scene faster than the rest of us can, that’s information they need to package and sell. But if the cops wind up sitting around for an hour or two or three while waiting for the tow truck to show up, the manpower drain and the inability to deal with other concurrent crimes could be a problem. That’s a risk that the council is willing to take, and in this case, I think it’s a risk worth monitoring.