D.C. Council Votes to Stop Arresting Drivers Over Expired Tags, For Now

The D.C. Council voted unanimously Tuesday to temporarily decriminalize the offense of driving with an expired tag -- just two weeks after FoxNews.com published an article detailing how police were arresting drivers for what in most jurisdictions is a violation punishable by fine.

The emergency bill would make driving with expired registration a civil violation while the city reviews its policy. The maximum penalty would be a $200 fine and vehicle impoundment, but not jail time.

The city has scrambled to take up the legislation since Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., -- after seeing the FoxNews.com piece -- complained to D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray about the practice. Webb said there was "absolutely no justification" for arresting motorists over expired tags.

Gray pledged to review the policy, and in the interim had Council Chairman Kwame Brown introduce the bill in the council -- the stopgap measure would last about seven months while the city examines its policy.

Gray, in a letter to Webb last week, defended the police department practice, saying vehicles that don't have proper registration are a "potential threat." But he acknowledged it might go too far.

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"I agree that imprisonment may be perceived as quite harsh for this type of violation," Gray wrote.

The new law, presuming it is signed by Gray, would impose a $100 fine for drivers using registrations that are less than 30 days expired. For registrations that have lapsed by longer than that, the fine would increase to $200 and the vehicle could potentially be impounded.

AAA, the nation's largest driving club and travel organization, also raised concerns about the "burdensome" policy and applauded Tuesday's vote.

"This puts an end to one of the most controversial traffic laws in the country," spokesman John Townsend said in a statement Tuesday. "The fact that police officers were routinely arresting motorists for a simple traffic infraction strikes many law-abiding citizens and legal observers as being unseemly and over-the-top. This is a matter of justice."

AAA last week relayed the case of a naval officer who wrote Webb about being arrested for expired tags this past July.

According to AAA, the arrest came as the officer and Naval Academy graduate was applying for renewed security clearance for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan -- in that process, he was asked if he was ever arrested.

"I obviously now have to answer the question yes and will have to for the rest of my life," he wrote, according to AAA.

The police department generally was not jailing drivers for tags that had only recently expired.

But a D.C. resident described to FoxNews.com his experience in August 2010, when he was arrested for driving with a registration expired by about 10 days.

He was shuttled throughout the night between holding cells, before finally being released -- only to find a ticket on his car after another officer had illegally parked it upon his arrest.

"Of all places, D.C. could be using its time more prudently," the individual said.