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Cars jailed to punish owners

When it comes to curbing people who drive with suspended licenses, city officials figure they can do better by fining the driver and putting the car in jail.

Motorists with outstanding tickets or warrants have until Jan. 1 to pay their fines and get right with the court. After Jan. 1, police who discover someone driving on a suspended license will call a tow company to have the vehicle impounded.

To get the vehicle back, the driver will have to prove he or she has a valid driver’s license and insurance and will have to pay a $100 administrative fee, towing and storage fees and unpaid court fines or penalties from prior violations.

Serious or repeat offenders could have their vehicles impounded for as long as three months.

That might seem like a lot, especially if someone is looking at hundreds of dollars in parking tickets and fees. But Assistant City Manager Derek Matheson said the city is willing to work with people.

Drivers don’t have to pay their fines in one lump sum, Matheson said. They can set up a payment plan at the courthouse — assuming their tickets and fines are through the Federal Way Municipal Court.

Once the driver sets up a payment plan to pay off the fines, his or her name will be removed from the impound list.

Drivers with outstanding tickets or warrants from other cities will have to work with courts there to avoid the impound list. The Federal Way Municipal Court can’t set up payment plans for fines through other jurisdictions.

City officials also are granting a one-time hardship waiver. The court will release the vehicle to a spouse with a valid license who needs the vehicle to get to work, for example.

Police officers have the option of issuing a citation and releasing a person driving with a suspended license, but they usually arrest, particularly if the driver has warrants or a high number of offenses.

The new impound ordinance is part of the city’s attempt to cut jail costs, Matheson said. During the last budget cycle, city officials were alarmed to see how high jail costs were climbing.

The city spent about $200,000 for jail services in 1991, Matheson said. Last year, Federal Way spent $1.5 million for jail services.

“Jail service was the fastest-growing line item in the budget,” he said. “We didn’t want to spend more on people who break the law and less on people who follow it.”

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