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Caught driving recklessly in St. Louis? An alderwoman wants to boot your car

Traffic moves at the intersection of N. 18th Street and Olive Street on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Downtown West. Two people were killed in a crash at the intersection earlier this month.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
Traffic moves at the intersection of North 18th and Olive streets on Tuesday in St. Louis. Laticha “Lety” Bracero, 42, and her daughter Alyssa Cordova, 21, had just left the Drake concert at Enterprise Center on Feb. 13 when they were struck and killed by a speeding driver while crossing the street.

The number of pedestrians, bikers and drivers killed in traffic crashes in St. Louis has skyrocketed in recent years and now, one alderwoman wants to use a boot to immediately disable the cars of people who drive recklessly.

The bill from Cara Spencer of the 8th Ward adds detail to the current definition of reckless driving, which currently reads “any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”

But her bill adds a wrinkle to the enforcement side. Anyone who is pulled over and ticketed for violating that traffic ordinance would have their car immobilized.

“The answer isn't to incarcerate people, or fine people,” Spencer said. “And right now, when a police officer pulls someone over, they're giving them a ticket, but they're going about their merry way. At the end of the day, what we want to do is stop the vehicle.”

If the owner of the vehicle was also the person driving the car, they would have to pay $500 to have the boot removed. Nondriver owners would have to provide proof the vehicle belonged to them within five days to avoid having the car impounded, but they would not have to pay the fee to get the boot removed. The fee would also not apply if a car is stolen and later crashed.

“And yes, this is going to be a pain in the butt to get a boot off of your car, whether you own it, or your mom owns it, or your neighbor or whatever,” Spencer said. “But we really shouldn't be reckless about lending out our vehicles.”

Thirteen people were killed and more than 1,200 were injured in traffic crashes in St. Louis in the first three months of 2023, according to Trailnet, a pedestrian and bike advocacy group. 2022 saw 78 people killed and more than 5,500 injured in crashes in the city.

A piece from a wheel chair lays on the ground at the intersection of Clarendon Ave. and Page Blvd. on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Sherman Park. A man was killed by a moving vehicle at the intersection.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
A piece from a wheelchair rests on the ground at the intersection of Clarendon Avenue and Page Boulevard on Tuesday in St. Louis' Academy neighborhood. Micelle Jimerson, 60, was using a wheelchair when they were killed by a vehicle at the intersection earlier this month.

Spencer’s colleague, Alderman Shane Cohn of the 3rd Ward, is leading the effort to reinstate automated traffic enforcement tools like red-light cameras. He said he was “leaning in favor of putting more tools in our toolbox to address traffic safety issues” and looked forward to conversations about the bill.

Not everyone was impressed with Spencer’s proposal.

ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit legal advocacy group that focuses heavily on municipal ordinance enforcement, called the bill an “unserious response to a serious problem.”

"Even worse, it is blatantly unlawful,” the organization’s executive director, Blake Strode, said in a statement. “Police cannot simply seize property with no process whatsoever and then demand payment to get it back. The problems with this scheme are too numerous to name. We have seen this movie before, and it does not end well."

Spencer’s bill includes language that requires the police department track the race and gender of people who are pulled over to try to prevent discrimination. And she said having a boot on a car is less disruptive than being in jail.

Charles Bryson, policy catalyst with Trailnet, said the organization was concerned about the vagueness of the language.

“I don’t know it would hold up in a court,” he said. “Then you're going to have a whole bunch of cars booted on the sidewalks and the streets, and what does that mean?”

There is also the question of enforcement. Records provided by the city show that police officers wrote 32,614 total tickets for traffic violations in 2023. The data did not indicate how many were for reckless driving specifically.

“We're hoping with enough community engagement that this could be prioritized within the police department,” Spencer said.

Her bill is not yet scheduled for a hearing.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.