Decatur poised to seize cars
Majority of council members supports impound ordinance
By Evan Belanger
An ordinance designed to get unlicensed drivers off city streets is winning majority support from the Decatur City Council.
Proposed by District 3 Councilman Gary Hammon, the ordinance calls for the towing and impounding of vehicles operated by unlicensed motorists.
When questioned by The Daily this week, four of the city’s five councilmen said they would likely support the measure when it comes up for a vote. The Daily was unable to contact Council President Billy Jackson, but other councilmen said they thought he would also support the measure.
If passed, the ordinance would allow police to impound any vehicle operated by a motorist who cannot prove he or she has a valid driver license. It would take effect as soon as city officials could advertise the law change.
“I think this will be a real positive for us,” said Mayor Don Kyle, who championed the proposal early on. “I hope more communities pass ordinances like this one.”
City officials said Tuesday the matter would likely make the council’s agenda Nov. 19, when a public hearing will be set. Final consideration could occur as early as Dec. 3, said City Clerk Betty Marshall.
A draft version of the proposal obtained by The Daily this week contains a number of safeguards to protect motorists who have a license but not in their possession.
It states police must make a “reasonable attempt” to verify the eligibility of any motorist who claims to have a license. State law still requires motorists to keep their licenses on them when driving.
Failure to do so could result in a fine.
The proposal also grants a 60-day grace period for any motorist whose license recently expired and makes an exception for medical or other emergencies.
“We’re trying to do this thing right,” Hammon said. “That’s why we didn’t jump out and try to get ours in before Athens got theirs in.”
Owners of impounded vehicles would be required to pay a $25 fee, show proof of insurance, ownership and a valid license before they retrieve their vehicles.
If the owner does not have a license, he or she can still retrieve the vehicle, but must have two licensed drivers with him to do so.
Owners must pay towing and storage fees to the towing service that picked up their vehicles.
The draft did not detail those costs, but Hammon said towing and storage fees and a rotation list for towing services would be included in a final draft.
He estimated the fees would be about $150 for pickup plus a daily storage charge.
Storage fees would be applicable only after the towing service held the vehicle for at least five days.
Vehicles left in impound for more than 60 days can be sold by the towing company to help recover their costs, according to the draft.
While city officials say the new law would definitely make Decatur streets safer, the latest draft is not everything some had hoped.
Most notably, it does not include language allowing the impounding of uninsured vehicles driven by licensed motorists.
Both Kyle and Hammon included that in their original proposals, but they now say state law does not allow it.
“That’s what we had hoped to do, but we couldn’t find an attorney who would agree with us,” Kyle said.
State law requires liability insurance, but it does not grant additional powers to help enforce the law.
Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, told The Daily on Tuesday he has been working for years to get a bill that does that passed in the House, but Democratic leadership in the Legislature has continually blocked him, refusing to let the bill come up for a vote.
Hammon said he will continue proposing the bill, but he does not know whether House leaders will see it differently.
Shortly after Decatur officials announced their intentions to introduce the impound ordinance locally, critics said it unfairly targeted illegal immigrants who could not obtain a license or insurance. Kyle denied those claims, saying it targets only lawbreakers.
House Rules Committee Chairman Ken Guin, D-Tuscaloosa, did not respond to requests for a comment on the matter Tuesday.
Athens seizes 400-plus cars
Athens police Capt. Tracy Harrison said police have impounded 480 vehicles since Aug. 9, when police began enforcing the city’s new impound ordinance.
In June, the Athens City Council approved the ordinance, which requires officers to impound a vehicle if the driver does not have a license or is driving with a revoked or suspended license.
To retrieve a vehicle, the owner must go to police with two licensed drivers and show proof of insurance on the impounded vehicle. The police give the owner a release, which the owner takes to the wrecker company along with the licensed drivers, identification and proof of insurance.
An owner must pay the wrecker company any tow charges and pay the city a $25 administrative fee to retrieve a vehicle.
Those who have not retrieved their vehicles are listed online under the link “Police Dept. Vehicle Impoundment Log” at
As of Monday, the number of vehicles still impounded was 56.
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