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New city bill would impound cars with $1,000 in unpaid tickets accrued behind the wheel

A truck tows a car. On Monday, Councilman Ryan Dorsey introduced a bill that would allow Baltimore City to tow vehicles with more than $1,000 in unpaid moving citations.
Vetatur Fumare/Flickr
A truck tows a car. On Monday, Councilman Ryan Dorsey introduced a bill that would allow Baltimore City to tow vehicles with more than $1,000 in unpaid moving citations.

Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey introduced a bill to impound cars with $1,000 or more in unpaid citations for moving violations at the council’s first meeting of the year Monday. He argues it will target a small number of drivers that make city streets unsafe for everyone.

Baltimore boots and tows cars over as little as three unpaid parking tickets — violations which the Democrat says rarely create safety hazards. But the city does not have the power to impound cars over moving violations such as speeding or running red lights.

Accruing $1,000 worth of such tickets within the city “is a reasonable indicator that you are chronically unsafe,” Dorsey said.

He said that half a million vehicles are used on Baltimore streets each day. About 2,300 of them – less than 1% of daily drivers – currently have more than $1,000 in outstanding moving violations. About 20 have more than 100 outstanding violations.

“The worst one is upwards of 300 outstanding violations, none of which is older than May of 2020. That's a rate of one violation almost every other day,” he said. “These are the vehicles that are being driven around our city, creating the unsafe conditions that we hear about from our communities and we experience as we go about our business in the city on a daily and weekly basis.”

The state Motor Vehicle Administration can suspend a driver’s license if a resident accumulates 8 points on their driving record; a license can be revoked if a resident accumulates 12 points. The bill would allow Baltimore to impound vehicles for which the MVA may have already suspended registration, as well as unregistered vehicles.

Dorsey called the bill a tool to allow the same city staff that impounds cars for parking violations to take the same actions against “drivers who have accrued 25, 40, 50, 100 moving violations throughout our city.”

Baltimore’s impound lot manages the storage and disposal of nearly 40,000 vehicles each year, according to the city Department of Transportation. Car owners must provide proof of ownership and pay outstanding tickets as well as towing and storage fees before they retrieve their vehicle.

Towing fees vary by location; residents must pay $130 for vehicles towed east of Charles St. and $140 for vehicles towed west of Charles St. The city charges an initial storage fee of $50, as well as $15 a day starting 48 hours after the vehicle arrives at the impound lot.

The bill was assigned to the Economic and Community Development Committee.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.