Evaluation of the Impact of Seattle's DWLS Vehicle Impound Law

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RAND Corporation Working Papers Series

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Working Paper

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Unlicensed motor vehicle drivers -- Washington -- Seattle, Traffic safety -- United States -- Planning, Drivers' licenses -- Law and legislation -- Washington -- Seattle


In recent years, a number of jurisdictions have sought to strengthen rules and regulations for promoting safe driving. Some have authorized impounding vehicles operated by individuals driving with a suspended license. In 1998, the City of Seattle passed such an ordinance, and it was implemented on January 1, 1999. Some critics of Seattle’s Impound Law contend that targeting DWLS drivers whose licenses are suspended for comparably minor offenses (called DWLS 3 drivers) is overly harsh, contending they are not significantly more dangerous than validly licensed drivers. Supporters of the law contend that more stringent actions against DWLS 3 drivers could help reduce accidents and injuries by removing more unsafe drivers from the roads.

The City of Seattle Legislative Department sponsored this evaluation to address questions about the appropriateness of targeting DWLS 3 drivers of the Impound Law, as well as the specific and general deterrence impact of the legislation. The current study utilized existing (and often limited) databases, including arrests and citations, court filing charges, impounds, accidents, and license suspensions. Seattle drivers were compared to drivers in Federal Way and Yakima.

Results of this study should be of interest to policymakers and researchers looking for ways to increase public safety through innovative penalties for driving-related offenses.


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