January 22, 1999
From Reporter Deborah Feyerick
NEW YORK (CNN) -- People who drink and drive may want to think twice before getting behind the wheel in New York City -- or they may not have any wheels to get behind.
The police department has issued a sober warning that anyone caught driving under the influence will have their car taken away on the spot. If found guilty, the driver loses the car forever.
The policy, set to begin in February, applies not only to personal cars but also to rental cars and leased cars. Only cars that belong to another individual will be returned.
New York's Police Commissioner Howard Safir is basing the policy on a city forfeiture law that lets police seize any weapon used in a crime.
By seizing cars, police hope to cut down on the city's drunken driving fatalities, which last year totaled 31. More than 6,000 people were arrested with too much alcohol in their bloodstreams.
While some say the policy is too extreme, Maureen Riccardella of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, whose family was hit by a drunken driver and who still suffers from the injuries, supports Safir's initiative.
"Drinking drivers are using their vehicles as weapons, and in no other situation would the police take the weapon from a violent felon and then hand it back to him," she says.
Across the country, 23 states have laws permitting police to confiscate or impound cars of drunken drivers, though they usually apply only to repeat offenders. Only New York is using a city law of criminal forfeiture to achieve the same end.
The police department currently confiscates cars of people who buy and sell drugs and those who pick up prostitutes.
At least one attorney says taking away the cars of drunken drivers is redundant because they already lose their driver's licenses.
"Now the commissioner, on his own, is announcing a new punishment, and that would be an additional punishment to what the law provides for," says attorney Gerald Lefcourt.
Late Friday, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he fully supported Safir's new policy.
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