Boots -- A Weapon in the Traffic Citations Arsenal
Booting tires of habitual traffic offenders is one of the most cost-effective ways of collecting revenues that are due municipalities and campuses. Booting, which places a locking device around a tire to immobilize the vehicle, is expanding throughout California as an efficient means of collections from scofflaws -- drivers with five or more unpaid traffic citations more than 45 days old.
Matt Farrell, parking programs manager for the city of Santa Cruz, agrees. "We collect an additional $15,000 to $25,000 each year by booting," he says. "It's a very good collection tool."
Similarly, many of the city of Sacramento's 200,000 tickets written annually go unpaid, requiring those vehicles to be booted to collect citations fines, according to Mike Melvin, program specialist. "When we started booting scofflaws 10 years ago, the first violators had $2,000 to $3,000 worth of outstanding tickets. Over time, the average dropped to $700 to $800. Now it's around $200 to $300. Even at these averages, the boot usually pays for itself in its first use. In addition to unpaid citations, violators must pay towing, processing and impoundment charges."
Booting is very effective on college campuses too, according to Anthony Boxdell, a parking enforcement official with the University of California, Berkeley before becoming parking enforcement supervisor for the city of Oakland. "Student athletes, typically with 18 to 25 parking citations, were the biggest offenders. We'd boot their vehicles to collect the fines, which provided a visual deterrent. Other students see it, and it really makes an impression."
"Just the sight of a boot on a tire is a major deterrent," agrees Melvin. "Plus, we put an 8_" x 11" warning on the windshield advising the driver that attempts to move the vehicle will damage the tire. The warning further advises the offender where to go to pay the fines. We tow the booted vehicle if past citations are not paid in three days."
Many cities prefer the boot over towing for several reasons. Boots can be installed by a technician rather than a police officer, freeing up police for more important duties. "In addition, a booting program can be started with minimum investment," explains Melvin. "Towing requires contracting with a company or having a towing fleet, which is expensive. Plus, the city would have to have land to impound the cars."
Farrell agrees. "Before the boot, the only option was to tow a vehicle. But many times the driver of the offending vehicle would show up and drive off before the tow truck got there. But now, our parking enforcement people simply put the boot on and continue searching for more violators."
Another advantage of the boot is fast installation. It can be installed (and taken off ) in about 30 seconds, according to Melvin. It simply slips around a tire with a built-in lug blocker and full-range vise-like clamping action to prevent unauthorized removal. Once on, the vehicle is immobilized.
Durability makes it very difficult for violators to remove a boot, an important point considering that about 20 percent of violators try to remove them. But such attempts almost always end unsuccessfully. Melvin described one attempt by a violator who used a torch to remove a boot, only to set fire to the tire! The city of Santa Cruz reports five or six boots have been damaged in recent years resulting from violators attempting to remove them. Once installed, it's on until removed by a traffic enforcement technician.
Another advantage of the boot cited by different municipalities is its light weight. One unit, for instance, weighs only 6 pounds, making it easy to transport. Santa Cruz's traffic enforcement officers carry one boot on a scooter, while officials in Sacramento stow 10 boots in a bin in their pickup truck.
Booting will continuously expand throughout California, because municipalities and campuses view it as a "kinder, gentler philosophy" that gives even chronic traffic violators a simple alternative to paying towing, impounding, processing and other associated costs. With other applications, such as DUI enforcement, the use of boots will only increase throughout California.
Ed Wilson is Vice President of Research & Development for Wilson Locking Systems, Santa Fe, N.M. He can be reached at (505) 471-3306.