When a judge suspends your driver's license and tells you not to drive until you get it back, you should probably obey.
That's the lesson four Lodi motorists learned Wednesday morning when they found themselves calling for rides and watching as tow trucks hauled their vehicles away. Minutes after resolving their court matter, they were holding new citations for driving without a valid license because undercover officers had watched them drive away from court.
One driver did obey the law, but not for long: She was stopped four hours later, when Detective Paul Blandford recognized her from the morning's court proceedings.
Of 40 people who appeared in court and had their licenses suspended for a variety of reasons, most followed the orders San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge David Warner had just given them.
Undercover police personnel watched each person leaving the 230 W. Elm St. courtroom, then relayed a physical description to other officers waiting outside. Those officers followed the people to see how long they would follow the law. A number of the unlicensed drivers bundled up in the chilly weather and began walking for blocks, though one stopped at a nearby restaurant for an early lunch.
Others, knowing their punishment would include a suspended driver's license, had brought someone to court who could drive them home.
The remaining four, who included a Corvette driver, were pulled over mere blocks away from the courthouse.
"Limited resources," one man said when asked why he was still driving. "I had to go to work. Dumb decision."
He'd gone to court for a citation he'd received for driving without insurance, and an officer was soon giving him a new citation for driving without a license, as well as still driving without insurance. The man declined to give his name as he took a few necessary belongings, including a child's car seat, out of the car that belongs to relatives.
Under California law regarding unlicensed drivers, vehicle ownership doesn't matter: Unless the driver has stolen it, the vehicle is impounded for 30 days, with tow yard storage fees racking up each day.
Most unlicensed drivers don't have insurance, either, which creates problems in car wrecks. Even with uninsured motorist protection, the other party usually has to pay a deductible, and then go to small claims court in an attempt to get it repaid. Meanwhile, insurance companies raise rates.
The five people stopped Wednesday ranged in age from 24 to 55 and included four men and one woman. They represented 12.5 percent of those who had appeared in court that morning.
The operation was paid for with a grant through the California Office of Traffic Safety, said Motor Sgt. Chris Jacobson.