Arrested in D.C. for expired plates? Not any more

(AP, ABC7) - The D.C. Council has passed emergency legislation to end the practice of police officers arresting drivers for expired license plates.

The bill submitted by Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray was approved without opposition Tuesday. It would eliminate criminal penalties for expired tags, replacing them with civil fines.

The practice drew scrutiny after news reports surfacedt that described several instances in which drivers were arrested for registration violations. That prompted U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, to ask Gray to stop the arrests.

Council Chairman Kwame Brown says drivers shouldn't worry about going to jail for the "simple error" of failing to renew their registration. Councilmember Phil Mendelson says the practice is out of step with other jurisdictions and isn't necessary for good law enforcement.

MPD Chief Cathy Lanier pushed for a provision in the new law that allows for police to tow and impound cars with tags that are expired over 30 days.

“We get to have the option to impound the vehicle and that is really our goal to make the roadways safe,” Lanier said.

But motorists like Leslie McDowell from Maryland, who was paying a fine Tuesday at the D.C. DMV headquarters downtown, think the law is still too strict.

“I'm glad they are not arresting people but towing your car for a bureaucratic infraction doesn't seem like the right thing to do,” McDowell said.