ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Dozens of Anchorage drivers learned the hard way over the past week that getting caught driving with a suspended license might mean losing their cars.
''Drivers that we are stopping now are quite surprised,'' said police Lt. Carolyn Stevens, as she stood in front of seized cars at a South Anchorage impound yard.
Between Aug. 21 and Aug. 28, Anchorage police impounded a record 81 vehicles.
Thirty-eight came from drivers charged under the drunken driving laws. The other 43 resulted from the city's brand new zero-tolerance stand on driving with a suspended or revoked license.
Just over a week ago the Anchorage Assembly passed a law that allows the city to impound a vehicle for up to 30 days if the driver is convicted of a first offense of driving with a suspended or revoked license.
If it's a second offense, the city will keep the car and sell it. There have already been 12 such forfeitures under the new law, police said.
''We are enforcing this vigorously, and we will continue to do so,'' Anchorage Mayor George Wuerch said. ''Driving on a public highway is not a right, it's a privilege.''
Wuerch added that there is a reason people had their licenses suspended or revoked in the first place.
Police say repeat offenders have lost their licenses because of drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident or a history of bad driving.
Such people need to be off the road, said Assembly Chairman Dick Traini, who sponsored the measure.
Offenders get their day in court to argue why the vehicle should not be seized, the city attorney said.
If a forfeited vehicle is still being paid off, then the bank can pay the impound fees and sell the vehicle itself. The sales price is deducted from the remaining balance on the car loan. The owner loses the equity, as well as the wheels.
City officials said so far no one has challenged the new law. Local defense attorneys had no comment. The Alaska Civil Liberties Union said it has not researched the matter.
Police are not surprised by the number of vehicles impounded under the new law, said Stevens of the Anchorage Police Department. Police discover unlicensed drivers when pulling motorists over for other reasons, she said.
Police, under the new law, can take the vehicle even if it is owned by someone other than the driver, if the driver is caught with a suspended or revoked license. But that may not happen.
''If it is a borrowed car and the owner was not negligent in loaning the car, then usually what (would) happen is the owner gets the car back,'' said City Attorney Bill Greene.
After the new year, the law is scheduled to expand to cover the estimated 30 percent of Anchorage motorists driving without car insurance.
Assembly members delayed the effective date of the insurance part of the law until Jan. 1 in an attempt to first educate Anchorage drivers so they will get the mandatory insurance.
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